Greetings, swing orphans and non-dancing clambake attendees!
Okay! So remember last week, when partly due to the fact that just as every bride is beautiful on her wedding day, every show is fabulous on its opening night, and partly due to the steady rise in quality that has been increasingly apparent over the last several weeks, Smash was kind of amazing? How we burst into tears multiple times? How there were fistfights and glamour and sexual rejection and celebrity cameos, and for one brief shining moment it became the hybrid of Dynasty and The Muppets Take Manhattan — as we dreamed it would?
Can they sustain it? I don’t know, but it seems like they’re certainly going to try. Because this episode opens with an extreme close-up of Kathie Lee Gifford!!! An eighties-era celebrity in an incongruous morning cocktail dress!!! I ask you, is there anything more Muppetsty than that? Also, if there ever had been a Muppets Dynasty, would Piggy be Alexis Carrington, and Krystle a human rival married to Kermit’s Blake? I mean, obviously Steven would be Scooter — because, you know — and Fallon would be Janice at her most tempestuous — unless you think Janice would be better as Claudia Blaisdel? But I feel like Piggy would want to be Krystle, but she’s really an Alexis. Aren’t we all either Alexises (Alexi?) wanting to be Krystles, or Krystles wanting to be Alexis? Isn’t this what Catharine MacKinnon was talking about in Are Women Human?
All right, I need to stop talking about the intersection of Aaron Spelling, the Muppets, and radical feminism, or we could seriously be here all day. (Save it for the doctoral thesis, Shukert.) The point is, I almost didn’t recognize Kathie Lee at first as she is a) dressed as Marilyn Monroe and 2) sober. She’s there filming a segment for the Today show in which she, Ivy (looking smashing in a difficult-to-pull off shade of egg yolk), and the theatrically yawning ensemble of Bombshell will be teaching “The 20th Century Fox Mambo” to a group of underprivileged elementary school show queens, an annual venture paid for in part by the philanthropic arm of the Steven Carrington Institute for the Treatment and Study of Faggotry. (Okay, I’ll stop.)
And this is only the first in an “exhilarated!” Ivy Lynn’s whirlwind tour of bizarre publicity commitments. Broadway Talks Back! The Brighton Beach Senior Center! The Semi-Annual Macy’s Sweater Sale (although only after a severe warning not to apply the Sharpie to any customer’s breasts, buttocks, or other body parts. Nobody wants a repeat of the time they invited Len Cariou. Obviously, we can’t go into detail for legal reasons, but let’s just say there’s a 72-year-old woman in White Plains who still has “Fredrik Egerman” written on her you-know-what and is not happy about it.)
Meanwhile, Anjelica Huston is as giddy as young girl of 3500 again, because Marisa Tomei just broke her leg! “You know what that means,” says Mimi the publicist. “Yes!” Angelica yelps. “It means the coven kept their word when I let them impregnate my unconscious daughter St. Gummer with the spawn of Satan and now Moonstruck the Musical (!!!) isn’t going to Broadway and Donald Baumgart is blind and now we’re guaranteed the Tony as long as we can stay open until June!” Which is why it’s so important to keep Ivy busy busy busy and happy happy happy! Happy now and happy hence and happy ever after! Too too busy and far too happy for a self-pitying quickie for the increasingly self-pitying Derek! Remember this, for it will be important later!
But for once, Derek has problems that go beyond the sexual, because far away in the downtown oubliette that houses his Slovakian torture-porn music video Hit List, Jimmy has failed to show up for their New York (once again, Mandy Patinkin holla!) cover shoot. What’s more, every one of the Broadway producers in New York City is coming tonight to see if Hit List can transfer. How many producers? All the producers. “If a bomb went off,” Derek boasts, “Broadway as we know it would cease to exist,” and we smash (pardon the pun) cut to Elaine Stritch strapping on a suicide vest in the suite she’s asked the Carlyle to redecorate to look more like a Waziristani cave bunker: “I MAY BE GOING BACK TO MICHIGAN TO DIE, BUT I’M TAKING YOU ALL WITH ME!!!!”
Obviously, Karen Cartwright, an unfinished airline magazine crossword puzzle who is unconvincingly masquerading as a human being, is mightily put out by Jimmy’s absence, even though, as Kyle Goblinweed hastens to point out, it’s all her fault that Jimmy disappeared like this. Kyle, my sweet little earthen angel, under normal circumstances I’d agree with you that Karen Cartwright is personally responsible for the decline of American culture, the death of the gun control bill, and for using chemical weapons on her own people in Aleppo, but Jimmy not showing up and costing his own show the cover of the hippest, smartest, and most relevant publication in the metropolitan area (do I get a raise now?)? That’s on Jimmy, and to assert otherwise is co-dependence to the Rihanna-est degree.
Anyway, here’s Jimmy now, being hauled out of the back of a cab piece by piece and being hastily reassembled, Mr. Potato Head style, by a blonde in a leopardskin thrift-store coat my ninth-grade self wants back. “Hi losers,” says Jimmy’s foot, which is where his head used to be. “What did I miss?”
And you guys, it just occurred to me: With the changed name, the consistent drug problems, the chronic lateness, the murky and abusive past, the willingness to present as a sex object and anger at being treated like one, the general impossibility occasionally leavened with flashes of genuine brilliance and charm — of all the characters on this show, it’s Jimmy Collins who is actually just like Marilyn Monroe. Put that in your gender studies pipe and smoke it, Cousin Debbie!
And speaking of Cousin Debbie, when are she and Tom getting started on Houston and Leavitt’s Baz Luhrmann’s F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby? Well, she already started. On the play. Which has no songs. And which she promised to Scott Jim Oskar Ells Nicola Eustis for his next big project at the Manhattan New York Public Workshop Theater Club, and he loves it. How much does he love it? So much that when he ostentatiously smells her hair during their next bout of exaggerated “We Have Sex Now” head-cuddling, it smells like…Tony. (And not the bartender from the other night — the Antoinette Perry Award. Also, for the record, I smelled an actual Tony once, when I was unwisely left alone in the office of a benevolent S-JOENE like figure. It smelled like metal with a sharp, almost medicinal plasticine tang not unlike the inside of a memory-foam pillow and/or certain batches of methamphetamine. Eau de Victoire.) Also, if she takes the play away from him now he’ll lose his job and will not be responsible for his actions, which may or may not result in her vivisected, still-warm body being sent to Mike Nichols in a glass display case, suitable for framing.
In the next room, Kyle Goblinweed is gently probing Jimmy for details of his nocturnal adventures. “I don’t know where it was,” Jimmy mumbles. “Some sort of stately home on Long Island, maybe. They gave me a potion to drink. There were men in masks, and I’m pretty sure I saw Sydney Pollack’s penis, but I can’t be sure.” He’s just so broken up about Karen. He thought she was the one. Kyle’s eyes get very bright. “But I’m your one, Jimmy,” he whispers, thinking of all the time they shared, of that summer on the leaf raft that seemed it would go on forever, of the single shiny pebble Jimmy picked out of the sole of his shoe and threw at him that time, the pebble Kyle still uses as his pillow every night as he sleeps in the back kitchen behind the black beetles, waiting for Mrs. Pierce to wallop him with a broomstick and dreaming of what might have been, what still might be. “I’m your one.”
But Jimmy doesn’t hear him, can’t hear him, because all he can hear is the smooth mellow grooves of Token — TOKEN! — auditioning for his part! His part!!! Of course! Because who else could match the dangerously combustible sexual energy of Katharine McPhee more than a gay celibate church deacon! “Oh fuck off, you fucking fuckhead,” Derek, increasingly the voice of the audience in all matters Jimmy-related. “We’re auditioning for your understudy. Which we need, because it’s equity rules, and also because you’re never fucking here.” At which Jimmy responds with a complete and total insult tirade narcissistic meltdown, because who could ever replace the grandeur and majesty of him, and on the days when he chooses not to be there, not only should Hit List be dark, but so should all the theaters in all the cities of all the United States of America, because he had the worst childhood ever and no one can understand his pain.
And I ask you, has anyone, ever in the history of the world except a straight white man ever gotten away with shit like this? No, before you answer, the answer is no. They are the only group to whom we allow the label of “tortured genius” to be affixed, who are allowed, even encouraged to behave abominably toward other human beings, with the knowledge that it will somehow all be explained away as a sign of their unimpeachable integrity, while the rest of us scramble to gather up their scraps with a smile. After ten long years of hard work and total professionalism, Ivy screwed up one performance of a long-running show and was fired and blackballed on the spot. Anjelica Huston ate months of shit from her cheating ex-husband until she finally managed to wrest the show from him on a legal technicality, and he still walked away smelling like a rose with no hits to his reputation. Tom took it upon himself to grovel to Karen, simply because he wanted her to at least try to commit to his directorial vision, and Karen, even the magical Karen Cartwright, as frankly, an equally untested newbie, would have been kicked to the curb in a second in the first season if she’d ever talked to someone the way Jimmy does. MARILYN MONROE IS DEAD.
And yet, he’s allowed to go onstage that night. Even though he barely makes it to the theater before places, and is obviously high, just as he’s been allowed to go through the entire rehearsal process radiating utter contempt and disrespect for everyone working their asses off to realize his vision, even though he has no understanding of the concept of collaboration, of the unique blend of viewpoints and visions that lift a piece to something so much greater than it is within the capacity of one imagination to create, which means he also has no understanding of what it is that actually makes the theater magical. That the collective is greater than the one. That the theater is not about stars, not really. The theater is about how for an hour, a performance, a run, you are not alone. Truly. No one is alone.
But Jimmy doesn’t know that, or care. So he goes on in front of Kevin McCollum and Daryl Roth and Eileen Rand, and Kyle Goblinweed’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Goblinwitz, who sold everything down to their very last chicken feather to make the trip from their little forest village of Anatevka to see their boychik make good in America, and he does whatever the hell he wants. He misses his cues. He wanders in and out of the interpretive dance belts writhing their hearts out up there, with total disregard for their choreography or safety. He forgets to catch Karen when she gets shot, and although for a single gloriously perplexing moment I thought someone had switched out the blanks in Midriff’s guns for real bullets and we had a Christopher Pike Last Act situation on our hands, but nope, she just cut her arm, or sprained it; it’s unclear. If only Ann Harada were here to tell us!
And the show is great (although no one, including me, thinks it has much transfer potential, not because it’s too edgy, but because it has no discernible story.) But that’s in spite of Jimmy, not because of him. So finally — finally! — he is fired as an actor, to which he responds as anyone would: by drunkenly climbing on top of a bar and performing all the monologues from The Marriage of Bette and Boo, and then Elaine Stritch runs in and tries to blow herself up, but the stupid vest won’t go off so now she’ll have to go through with running for Congress.
And Jimmy’s not the only one getting canned. Uptown, in front of an audience of bewildered senior citizens and the confrontational ghost of Spalding Grey, Cousin Debbie and Tom are slowly, painfully, firing each other. She won’t do The Great Gatsby with him. She can’t do that to S-JOENE, and she can’t do that to the work she’s done. They play a little tit-for-tat, City of Angels, calling my lawyers, everything I’ve done for you, blah blah blah, but the truth is there: They aren’t inspiring each other. It’s true, as Ivy says, that an artistic partnership is like a marriage, but it also is like a love affair. Tom and Debbie aren’t in love anymore.
But Kyle is. Poor little Kyle Goblinweed, keeper of secrets, abnegator of self. Even he is firing Jimmy, packing his things in the army duffle, washing that man out of his hair for good.
Except we never know what’s coming do we, in the bare flash of those headlights? One minute you’re a newly celebrated theatrical sensation finally breaking the cycle of toxic co-dependency, doing a midnight march of empowerment down the streets of Greenpoint with defiance in your eyes and a Jeff Buckley song on your lips; the next, you’re lying in a hospital bed with Linda Lavin bending your legs over your head and asking you if you’re Mr. Enrico Tortellini of Passaic, New Jersey.
Let’s just hope that somebody’s got insurance.