Friday, April 29, 2011

Coney Island Gala!

Last night I went to a totally fun gala benefiting Coney Island. It took place at a club called Amnesia on West 29th Street.

I've been to this event a few times and it is always incredible. Last night featured tantalizing "ambient artists" throughout the venue -- hoola-hoopers, gogo girls, and aerialists. There was a silent auction and I bid on a couple of things, including a beautiful painting by Meridith McNeal, and a photograph from the Mermaid Parade (I am not sure if I won...). Finally, the evening included a freak show performance with very entertaining strip tease numbers, and a gorgeous fire eating performance by Insectivora.

After the event Meridita and I went to dinner at Bottino, where we shared a salad and the freshest ravioli I have had in my life.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

First Class/Second Class

The group show First Class/Second Class at Asya Geisberg Gallery, co-curated by Geisberg and Leah Oates is fantastic -- it is complex and dynamic, with each of the works resonating and dialoguing with the others.

Exploring class from different perspectives, this show features a number of photographers as well as other artists who investigate poverty, wealth, resentment, alienation, pop culture and materialism, and conflict.

Pictured here is a detail from Holly Jarrett's installation, "Pig's Palace", a kind of shack created from found materials ornamented with kitschy wall paper and many images of Justin Beiber. Literally stepping into the piece I felt both overstimulated and cramped -- an important sensation, I think, for a piece about working class lifestyle and, perhaps, limited possibilities.

The photographs in First Class/Second Class depicted different elements and visions of class: rural and urban poverty, rendered compassionately and without a sense of voyeurism. A work by Miles Ladin, capturing wealthy people at what I think was a gala, was particular striking, conveying a surreal sinister alienation. It made me think of Larry Fink's Social Graces (I think that's the title of the book).

Particularly poignant were Rebecca Morgan's self portraits depicting self-loathing, resentment, fear, isolation and aspiration. These were beautifully rendered pieces that spoke to me on the most personal level.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tea with Mussolini

Wow, Tea with Mussolini is a total mess! This 1999 Franco Zeffereli film, with an awesome cast that includes Joan Plowright, Judi Dentch, Maggie Smith, Lilly Tomlin and Cher, just barely manages to not suck. It was a sprawling mess of a movie, but still at the end I was all teary eyed.

That is, I kind of have to admit I enjoyed it. It's about a group of expats in Italy during WWII. Mostly British biddies who are enamored of Italy and Mussolini, as well as two notable American's, Cher, who is extremely wealthy and willful but warm and caring (and, it turns out, Jewish) and Lilly Tomlin, who is sort of incidentally a dyke, although this is sort of like a random fact just tacked on. The ladies all pitch in the early education of a young motherless Italian boy before he is sent off to school in Germany, and their care and attention and eccentricities have deep meaning for him. Years later, when Mussolini enters war with England and America, and the ladies are under custody, he and the American Jewess come to their rescue.

I can't help thinking this could have been great. But it just seemed to keep missing it's mark. Not quite funny enough, not quite dramatic enough, etc. The characters all had a degree of charm, but were also rather two dimensional ("I'm the shrew!" - "I'm the ditzy hysteric!" -- "I'm the wise and warm one!" - "I'm the dyke!" -- "I'm the lovable rich eccentric!", etc.).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Traveling Light

Kath Weston's ethnographic account of her journeys on Greyhound buses throughout the US is kind of stunning in an understated way. Traveling Light: On the Road with America's Poor is rich with anecdotes about the members of the working poor and underclass who she encounters. There are so many stories here, so many characters, that you get a wonderful sense of the breadth and contours of American poverty, without feeling beaten over the head with it.

Interspersed with analysis of class, race, the economy, etc, Traveling Light brings these stories into perspective, and the work is thoughtful and compassionate.

My favorite chapter was the last one, that chronicles her experience of the South prior to Katrina. And most important to me was the beginning of the author's note at the end:

"Anyone who writes about what it means to live without ready access to cash knows how hard it is to break with genre conventions and refuse to play the voyeur. How many volumes have been written in which well-meaning elites go slumming in order to regale a middle-class readership with stories of hardship?"

I was glad she wrote this, because it eloquently captures the problem I had with Nickel and Dimed, and Weston managed to avoid that voyeurism -- I'm not sure how exactly... somehow her perspective didn't intrude on the material, somehow she took the people she met and the experiences she had at face value without serving them to her readers with a sense of "can you believe how much this sucks?!". I really appreciated her writing and the sensibility which came across in this work.

The VindleVoss Family Circus Spectacular!

Also at Dixon Place as part of the Puppet Blok! series last evening: The VinldeVoss Family Circus Spectacular! featuring Karim Muasher and Carrie Brown.

Using old school vaudeville tropes, and delightful clowning techniques, the two performers played an anthropologist and his prized zombie. The two were very charming together, and the performance was pretty engaging -- they did a lot to create the circus feel, including passing out popcorn and glow sticks. However, the humor began to drag for me, and although the piece was strong and entertaining, the charm started to fade by the end.

The Quiet Way

Last night I was privileged to see an excerpt of Casey Llewellyn's The Quiet Way performed at Dixon Place as part of its Puppet Blok! series.

The Quiet Way is an abstract poetical musing on art, gender, and the meaning of it all, beautifully and touchingly rendered with paper cutout shadow puppets projected behind Llewellyn. It also included an actor in addition to Llewellyn moving against the light to create evocative shadows while delivering monologues about gender and being. The words of The Quiet Way were beautiful, and I would love to see a copy of the text.

Also, the audience was an active participant in the piece. Words were projected against the wall that were our lines, and we all became implicated in the existentialist project.

It is a great piece and I look forward to seeing it when it's completed.

By the way, the facebook description reads:

"The Quiet Way is a landscape to be entered. The piece unfolds in a constant present, as figures such as Girl who Reads, Robert Llewellyn who is a Girl (by others’ designation), Lapdog and Dust endeavor to find freedom within the confines of language. The play uses Eileen Myles’ words, “I just knew in a quiet way I was ruined if I agreed to be female,” as a jumping off point for the interrogation of gender, sexuality, transformat...ion and the scraping of the self against the outside. The piece draws on a wide breadth of performance language—including puppetry, dance, poetry and live music—to call attention to the moment of speaking and the problem of self-expression. The Quiet Way asks, what do you agree to? Where do you want to go?"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I recently, through a friend on facebook, discovered Lila Downs, who I can't stop listening to. Googling her, it turns out her career really took off after she sang in the movie Frida. Which then was on my mind, so I watched it tonight on Watch Instantly.

Directed by Julie Taymor, who gets so much right but rarely fully hits the mark, Frida seems to me to be true to the spirit of Kahlo's paintings. That is, something about Taymor's artistic decisions resonated with my experience and memory of the paintings I've seen.

The movie was very focused on the relationship between Kahlo and Diego, and it wasn't really that interesting. In general I'm not a fan of biopics, but this one was good enough, as far as they go.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Like Water for Chocolate

I watched Like Water for Chocolate tonight. It's a Mexican movie that takes place in the turn of century, during political upheaval. It's a magical realist love story about a young girl who is deeply in love with a young man whom she can't marry because her mother wants her, as the youngest daughter, to stay single and take care of her when she's old. So instead the young man marries one of her sisters.

It follows how they all live together with this illicit passion in the household. It is beautifully rendered, but I didn't fully get into it. Part of my problem was I didn't care for the young man at all. The ending was also a bit over-the-top.

Capriccio with Renne Fleming at the Met

The good news: I won Varis orchestra seats at the Met for the FOURTH time (last row in the orchestra, but still).

The amazing news: it was an opera starring Renee Fleming.

The bad, bad news: The opera, Capriccio, totally blew.

When I described the story to Meridita, who was so good as to accompany me, saying it's about a dinner time conversation about art, she laughed and said, "So it's like My Dinner with Andre as an opera?"

Yes, and let me tell you a CONVERSATION (particularly a 2 and half hour conversation) does not make a good "plot" for an opera. It was so fucking wordy. And nothing happened. To make it worse, there was no intermission (Meridita said they do that on purpose knowing no one would come back if you let us out).

The audience was having a tough time. In addition to general fidgeting, coughing, and candy wrapper rustling, people actually kept getting up an leaving. There were many, many times where I had to force myself not to look at Meridita out of fear that we would start laughing uncontrollably. The two women next to me were having a similar problem.

The music was very enjoyable. Sometimes (ironically since the "debate" was about poetry versus music), I stopped reading and just watched and listened. Renee Fleming sang beautifully, in warm, rich voice. But my favorite was Peter Rose as La Roche, a commanding bass who sang dramatically and lovingly.

Oh, and there were many points in the last forty minutes where it seemed like it was about to end. At one point everyone left the parlor, and the servants came out commenting on the action. I couldn't help during that scene to be reminded of the Oompa Loompas... And don't let me forget the scene where Renee Fleming seemed to be having a very private moment with a rose...

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Abstinence Teacher

I enjoyed reading The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. However, it was nowhere near as good as Little Children, which was darker and somehow drew me into the characters in a deeper way. In The Abstinence Teacher the characters are kind of broad and there is something farcical about it as a whole. That said, the story was good; funny and smart and well written. It tells the story of a suburban town in the Northeast which is beginning to be infiltrated by Christian fundamentalists. It centers on two characters, a sex ed teacher who is being forced to teach an abstinence curriculum, and a relatively new member of the church who is a former druggie and whose commitment to Christ is rather shaky. In spite of the weakness of the novel, I had a hard time putting it down and was kind of disappointed when it ended. The ending, by the way, was rather sudden. When you read on a Kindle you have much less of a sense of how much is left of a book, and in this case I had no idea I was reading the last chapter.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Maddy Owen-Dunow, Carlea Holl-Jensen, and Alex Morris at Barbes

Nelly Reifler put together another great event yesterday evening at Barbes. She is so great at finding talented, interesting, and charismatic writers. It is always a pleasure to be in the audience at Nelly Presents at Barbes.

Yesterday I got to hear three young writers: Maddy Owen-Dunow, who read an evocative short story in the second person; Carlea Holl-Jensen, who read a few pieces including a highly intelligent story written from the perspective of Charlotte Bronte's unborn child; and Alex Morris who read insightful and narrative poems.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Where the Wild Things Are at NYC Opera

This afternoon I saw a special benefit performance of Where the Wild Things Are at New York City Opera.

It wasn't a full production, but a concert performance. The orchestra was on stage, and the singers performed on platforms in the back. Most fantastic, however, were the projections of wonderful, vibrant art by Rush Kids and Teens. These fantastical, whimsical, and surprisingly complex images made the whole event really come alive.

Samples of their art work were on display in the promenade, and I took a bunch of pictures with my phone which didn't come out.

The music was great, and Danya Katok, who sang Max, was delightful. The orchestra was conducted by Julien Kuerti.

Tosca at the Met

Wow, what an incredible opera: Last night Meridita and I saw Tosca at the Met. I had won tickets (once again!) through the Weekend Ticket Drawing program they have. True, our seats were second to last row of the orchestra, but they weren't nosebleeders and it was just fine. The opera blew me away. Meridita and I had seen it in HD outdoors at Lincoln Center last year, but I wasn't that taken by it. This was a whole different story. Both Meridita and I were totally sucked in by the drama and completely caught up in the action. There was just something about it that was dramatically more riveting. The singing was incredible. I was particularly blown away by the beauty of Violeta Urmana's voice as Tosca, and Salvatore Licitra's aching Carvaradossi. Marco Armiliato conducted and James Morris sang Scarpia.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wendy and Lucy

I watched Wendy and Lucy just now on Netflix Watch Instantly, based on a friend's recommendation on facebook.

This very quiet, very focused movie is difficult to watch. It is about a young woman (played firmly and sensitively by Michelle Williams) who is traveling in her car with her dog and a limited amount of cash. She is heading to Alaska to find work when her car breaks down and she loses her dog.

Wendy and Lucy chronicles the two days she spends in desolate town trying to find her dog and get her car fixed. It is a subtle movie that manages to be tense and frightening the entire time. There is very little relief, in fact none, from the sense of isolation (that's not quite the right word) and the terrible insecurity of not having money. This is a slow movie that had it not been so well crafted would possibly have been excruciatingly boring. Instead it shimmered.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Good Son

I rarely have a craving for schlock, but sometimes it just appeals to me in an irresistible way. Hence, tonight I watched The Good Son, a thriller/melodrama about a bad seed.

A little boy's mother dies, presumably of cancer, and his father has to go on a business trip and leaves the boy with his brother's family which is comprised of the parents, a little boy and a little girl. You learn there had been a baby brother who died recently, drowned in the bathtub.

So the family's son, played by Macauley Culkin, has a sickly sweet demeanor and it turns out he is evil. The boy staying with them figures this out and it is up to him to save the family.

I could have sworn I'd seen The Good Son before, but I think it's that it's so filled with visual and dramatic cliches that it just seems that way. One good thing, the ending was intense, and rather surprising.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers!

On Friday night I had such a wonderful treat: The Flying Karamazov Brothers at the Minetta Lane Theater in the West Village.

I can't believe how much fun I had and how much I enjoyed these amazing, talented, and generous performers. The juggling was beautiful and mind-boggling, and the whole performance was filled with exuberant, joyous, old fashioned humor. It is so rare these days to just be purely entertained. It was really cathartic to just laugh and be amazed for 90 minutes. I can't remember when I last has such a good time at the theater.