“When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” It’s not the most philosophically profound statement in all of Rodgers and Hammerstein — that honor belongs to “I do not believe such thing as snow,” particularly as played for all its bleakly Kierkegaardian subtext by a 9-year-old Rachel Shukert in an Omaha community theater production of The King and I, featuring accents that would have put the Shitty Wok guy from South Park to shame. (It was a different time.) But Fraülein Maria’s Alpine wisdom possesses a certain folksy logic all its own. God sends the Nazis to invade Austria, but he leads you across the mountains to Switzerland, or allows you to trade an entire lifetime’s worth of accumulated wealth for a single emergency exit visa to Uruguay, or caused a Gentile peasant farmer to line a rat-infested crawl space with hay for you to hide in until the initial roundup is over or made your once cozy life such a living hell that death seems like a blessing. (Yes, I have been reading The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn again; what made you ask?) And sometimes, just sometimes, after the miracle of modern medicine dashes any thought of usurpation by restoring your rival’s voice to her, some Jew with a business card shows up to make all your dreams come true.
That said, let’s take it from the top, shall we? I’ll give you four for nothing. Five, six, seven, eight!
Ivy is powdering lasciviously at her dressing table, waiting for her lover Derek to take her to the Follies as he promised, which as we all know is never going to happen because red red red red, red red orange, red red orange. To comfort herself, Ivy opens her mouth to take solace in the gift of Song her fairy godmother Fauna bestowed upon her at her christening all those years ago. But oh no! The Voice! She is gone!
URSULA!!!!!! The Name sears itself across Anjelica Huston’s retinas, fiery and terrible as the celestial storm that summoned the first faltering life from the roiling primordial sea. At last, thinks Anjelica Huston, shuddering at the thunderclap that only she can hear. At last Ursula has come, and soon will wage the Final Battle between the Forces of Good and the Forces of Evil, between the blazing Heavens and the murky seas, when the Master of the Universe, Lord Sondheim himself, will rise again from the sacred Bay of Turtles with Flotsam and Jetsam, the Eels of Darkness, strangulated in each mighty fist, as foretold by the ancient sigil the Old Ones tattooed in raven’s blood upon Anjelica Huston’s heart before they put it in her body.
But before any of that can happen, she has to ask my friend Peter’s dad for 7 million dollars. And look, not to get all Republican austerity “we-can’t-afford-to-do-anything-except-reapportion-public-funds-to-the-rich-people-that-misappropriated-them-in-the-first-place” on you, but doesn’t that seem like a lot for a workshop? Oh, it’s not? Well, never mind. I just found enough change on the floor under the radiator to buy a Luna bar, so I’m not doing so bad myself. Never mind about the second-degree steam burns; I will tend to them myself with superglue, nail polish remover, and internal fortitude, like a real American who don’t need nothing from nobody.
But what does 7 million theatrical smackeroos get you these days? Well, it gets you Ivy, frantically lip-synching for her life in the bathroom, until the assistant stage manager Margaret Cho (quick fix!) pokes her dear little head in to tell Miss Monroe that it's time to ritualistically humiliate herself in front of her entire cast and creative crew, and receive one of Kat McPhee’s signature demure “I-told-you-so” smirks in reward. It gets you stupid Karen, who can’t even keep her script pages in order without Eyelid, Tokenetta and Gore Vidal, a.k.a. the Get-Along Gang flying to her side to find out Y Kant Karen Read. (And how on Earth did a nice, non-materialistic, non-slutty, utterly virtuous Iowan such as herself rack up a whopping $326.38 in credit card debt????? New York is ruining her! I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, and to my huge delight the Get-Along Gang says it with me: “Fuck you, Karen.”) It gets you Michael Swift, carefully unbuttoning his form-fitting heterosexual chambray leisure blouse to display just the right amount of cleavage before insisting. Furtively. To Cousin Debbie. That he really. Needs. To talk to her.
And it gets you Cousin Debbie, who has been too plagued of late with erotic nightmares in which she is holding a Chinese baby who then turns into Will Chase with the body of a Chinese baby and begins to roughly suckle her teat as she scream-sings the descamisados section from “A New Argentina” to do any semblance of work on the book or lyrics to her new 7-million-dollar musical workshop. Derek is rightly peeved about this, but Tom hurls himself selflessly in front of Cousin Debbie’s suede Pocahantas midi skirt, like Charlotte York next to the wedding limo of shattered illusions, and screams: “NO! NO!!! I CURSE THE DAY YOU WERE BORN!!! YOU CAN OWN THE EARTH BUT STILL ALL YOU’LL OWN IS EARTH UNTIL YOU CAN PAINT WITH ALL THE COLORS OF THE WIND! SHE PUT A MOTHERFUCKING BIRD ON HER MOTHERFUCKING HEAD!” “I hate Mondays,” says Derek. Poor Derek. Television hates competency.
As if to drive that fact gloriously home, Cousin Debbie is off to guiltily and incompetently make unwanted pajama pancakes for Carpet, her unwanted non-Chinese offspring. Suddenly (say the stage directions of the very official Smash teleplay script I didn’t get), we hear a deafening unarticulated grunt from the foyer. “WOOOOMMMMAAANNNNN!!!” Why, it’s Unfrozen Caveman Husband, back from his convenient absence at Unfrozen Teacher Camp! Cousin Debbie loves him! She kisses him! She missed him so much! He’s so special to her, even if he is an accredited science teacher who requires flash cards to learn the periodic table, because the last time he taught the most cutting-edge scientific technology involved ending a drought by sacrificing a virgin to Ursula the Sea Witch. (He was Anjelica Huston’s freshman year biology teacher, is what I’m saying.) Sacrificing a virgin, did you hear that, Carpet? Better go give your defrosted father product a big, wet kiss. Adultery makes everyone so loving!
SO! Dr. Nick Toscanni’s top secret medical report is in from Denver-Carrington on Ivy’s vanished voice: the good news is … she’s pregnant. No, I’m kidding. Ivy knows her way around an IUD, it’s not like she’s from Iowa. The good news is that it's not nodules or granules or any other horrible Julie Andrews-style affliction; the bad news is she’s going to sound like Harvey Fierstein for the rest of her natural life.
There is, however, another option: a miracle drug called … prednisone. Da da DUH!!!! It could solve everything; the only problem is, Ivy is highly, highly sensitive to drugs. If she takes this prednisone, there’s no telling how things could end. She could be freebasing penicillin in no time, selling herself through encoded messages on Craig’s List for just a single hit of acetaminophen, be found lying dead in a doorway, stripped to the waist, her mouth slack, the fatal syringe of Dimetapp still dangling from her pale, cold arm. Or she could suffer terrifying hallucinations of Katharine McPhee dressed as Mamie van Doren, from which she can recover only by enacting an impromptu quick-cut music video to a song that I absolutely have never heard before and could not find until I typed some of the lyrics into the Googlizer and learned it is a single released by, I believe, Jesse James, the tattooed motorcycle Nazi who was once very unkind to and may have even gone to the bathroom on Meryl Streep’s lesbian lover Sandra Bullock.
But hallucinations! This is a two-gay problem. Luckily, Tom is available to rudely flee the cocktail party being held in his honor by his perfectly nice and gainfully employed new boyfriend to fly to the side of his ladylove, only to find Token there already! Wait, this was supposed to be a two-gay problem, and “Token, you can’t be gay!” Tom exclaims, after inquiring, as I did, just what a “Ranger” might be. (This question is never answered! I am forced to assume it has something to do with this.) “You’re so …” and Tom’s mouth falls open with the thought of it. Methinks Young Thomas has something of the Kardashian about him. Also, the prednisone has stalled the machinations of Ursula the Sea Witch for now, but it has the side effect of making it impossible for Ivy to adhere to the Shukert 3-step Dating Plan I developed for her, namely steps 1 and 3: “Don’t be crazy.” I am thus prescribing the remedial 2-step plan until she’s off the junk: 1) Use deodorant, and 2) Don’t make him go to Anthropologie with you.
That’s right, folks! Chirping of birds, the crackling of leaves underfoot, and the scent of fresh manure in the air means it’s time for the Ellis report! Yes, it’s Ellis Dappledawn, everybody’s Favorite Friend of the Forest, cavorting merrily through the snow with a leaf for a cape and a pinecone for a sleigh! He wants the position of assistant priestess so recently vacated by the craven Scottsdale, you see, and to be allowed to talk all day to the enchanted Pacific Overtures Poster and send his Patronus to the holy westernmost temple of CAA (it’s pronounced Kaah).
So Ellis Dappledawn picks up his pebble phone and calls his friend (and erstwhile lover) Barney Badger to show Anjelica Huston some real estate. “Absolutely prime,” says Barney. “Hasn’t even come on the market yet. A steal at 10 grand a month. And, of course, you can’t beat the location.” “But it’s just the inside of a log,” says Anjelica Huston. “But there’s no broker’s fee,” says Ellis triumphantly, and because this is the most meaningful gift one New Yorker can give to another (and be we immortal priestess entities or furry little woodland sprites, are we not all New Yorkers? If you prick us, do we not ask you how much your apartment cost?), so the test is complete. Ellis has chosen wisely, so they go to a hip bar in a newly discovered area called “Downtown” to celebrate. Anjelica Huston is in raptures. “The bartender!” she exclaims. “I haven’t seen a profile like that since Amenhotep the Satisfied rode out on his Nile barge to sacrifice at the temple of Thoth! Who needs a $20 martini at the Carlyle when you can get a $16 one where they won’t even let you have the vodka you want and they give you attitude when you ask if they know how to make anything without artisanal elderflower syrup! What’s this over here?”
A ripple of terror shoots through Ellis’s baby bunny heart as he follows her hawklike gaze across the room.
“Big Buck Hunter. It’s a game,” whispers Ellis, swallowing hard. “A game where you ... you shoot … wildlife.” “Well, I must try it!” trills Anjelica Huston. “You will provide Earth coins please?” With trembling fingers, Ellis reaches a paw into the pocket of his waistcoat. “You have to take no prisoners to get what you want,” Kat McPhee had told him Simon Cowell told her once over by the craft services table while he was having his chest hair styled. “You have to stop at nothing.” Anjelica Huston raises the gun. Ellis looks into the innocent eyes of the faun. So dark. So trusting. “I’m sorry, Stuart,” Ellis whispers. “I’m so sorry.”
If Stuart heard him, we’ll never know.
Good news! Eyelid knows a way for Karen to pay off her credit card bill, besides asking her dad for an advance on her allowance, and no, it’s not prostitution, although does anyone else find it creepy the way they have Beloved Dev act like a Tex Avery cartoon every time his (seemingly) long-term girlfriend picks out a dress? It reminds me of my gay boyfriend from 11th grade, who was constantly telling me how “horny” I made him, then shrieked as though he’d been burned whenever, even in the gentlest way, I suggested he try touching my vagina with any part of his body. Or are they just trying to remind us that Kat McPhee is supposed to the hot one? Either way, methinks the Rebeck doth protest too much.
Anyway, here’s what she has to do. It seems there are, in the world, a people called the Jews. They’re a small, clannish tribe, these Jews, easily identified by their wild gesticulations and their fondness for certain types of smoked fish, not to mention the iron collars of bells they are mandated by law to wear in public places. Karen, obviously, has never met a Jew before, as musical theater, like dermatology and the law, is a profession from which they have traditionally been banned, but it seems they have one peculiar tradition called a “Bar Mitzvah,” in which a masculine child (we’ll call him “Ethan”) is selected from among his peers to make the treacherous and pollen-borne allergen-filled ascent up Mt. Sinai, where he is met by the acting head of the fabled Elders of Zion (I’ve heard the current one is our own Mayor Michael Bloomberg, although having never met a Jew myself, not even my own mother, father, husband, sister, brother-in-law, or editor, this is only an unsubstantiated rumor) who gives unto him the ancient secrets of Judah and feeds him stewed fruit in such quantities that there is a mighty movement in his bowels, which is subsequently inspected by a Fleet (pardon the pun) of ancient Jewesses wearing the ceremonial headdress of the Enemites, the traditional toilet-keepers of the Second Temple, after which he is pronounced a man and there is a party with his name written out in Mylar balloons.
It is at one such frenzied Bar Mitzvah orgy that Karen has been called upon to sing, if she dares, with a backing band consisting of Bull from Night Court, the Two-Headed Monster from Sesame Street, and Steven Tyler. And sing she does, and the Jews are inflamed, and they strip off their garments, and lay together, fathers with their daughters and mothers with their sons, in front of the golden idol shaped like Kat McPhee sleepwalking through a cover of that “shake it off” song that I thought was Katy Perry but is actually that severe-looking British girl in the Gunne Sax, and so did Israel fall. And later, as Karen and the band sit eating their meal of cold ceremonial chicken (with the Christian-baby demiglace served on the side, out of deference to the vegetarians) does one Jew approacheth her. “Recoil not from me,” sayeth the Jew, “for I come bearing a business card of someone who wants you to call him.” It is the card of some big macher in the music business, which along with usury and orthodontia is one of the few ways in which his wretched people may earn their living. He was there tonight and he thinks Karen has got what it takes to be a big star. Smell ya later, Broadway!
Cousin Debbie! Well, Cousin Debbie and Unfrozen Caveman Husband are all tucked up in the nest they have fashioned from cinnamon potpourri and sadness. You can tell the spark has gone out of a marriage when you don’t even bother to take the throw pillows off the bed when you get into it, is all I’m saying. But she can’t stop thinking about Michael Swift and his Li'l Swifty, so she goes to meet him, in the City, at the rehearsal studio, where their mutual passion is strongest and the camera has a lot of room to maneuver, and she is still in her pristine man-tailored white silk pajamas, like a beautiful mental patient in heaven, and I just hope she drove herself, because I know from experience that when you get into a gypsy cab dressed like that in the middle of the night in Brooklyn that first the driver is going to suggest you sit up front with him, and then he’s going to try to put your hand on his penis. As is Michael Swift, as it happens. “You shouldn’t have taken this part,” Cousin Debbie says, “You have a wife of convenience and a BrooklynChild™ with an ironically archaic first name; I have a partially defrosted Paleolithic husband product and a small square of shag Carpet with eyes.” “But I’m an actor,” says Michael, and from now on, whenever Michael says “actor” I think we can sub in “sociopath.” And then he unbuttons her silk pajama top, and she looks at him with the bright, painful gaze of a cancer survivor defiantly displaying the ravages of her recent mastectomy in an artsy black-and-white photograph, and they do it on the black leather couch.
And just like that, Cousin Debbie is cured! She can write again! And I am unexpectedly delighted by this show’s gender reversal of the traditional artist-muse relationship! And that they are letting a woman of Debra Messing’s age do topless sexy scenes! This is what feminism has come to in the age of Santorum! Who cares if you have to break a few eggs, or ruin a few lives, or sabotage a few leading ladies, or kill a few innocent fauns along the way? Because, sometimes in that over-the-rainbow place we call Manhattan, a Jew with a business card, a sociopath with a waxed chest, and an immortal priestess brandishing a hunting rifle are going to give us all we ever wanted, which is everything.