It’s said that Chekhov was always trying to get the Moscow Art Theater to produce Ivan Turgenev’s neglected classic A Month in the Country instead of his own new plays. Was this homage, self-deprecation, or payment of a debt? So much of what we find great in Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, and the rest of the holy canon finds its origins in the earlier work. It’s uncanny, really: A Month in the Country, completed in 1850, already contemplates, as Chekhov would a generation later, the collapse of Russia’s idle aristocracy amid new money and peasant awakening. It pioneers a form of comedy we now call Chekhovian, in which no one is happy. It even investigates the intersection of those two ideas. And yet Chekhov lifted more than just Turgenev’s genre and themes. Broad swaths of plot are appropriated, whole casts of archetypes redeployed. Which is not to say Chekhov didn’t improve what he took; it’s an irony worthy of the great ironist that his plays have nearly completely eclipsed their chief inspiration.
If you love Bob's Burgers and the punny burgers-of-the-day names, then you probably love Cole Bowden's Tumblr, the Bob's Burger Experiment. Bowden takes the names you see on Bob's chalkboard, creates a recipe, and then crafts an outlandish, gourmet burger from scratch. NPR's the Salt reports that after two years of making the internet drool, Bowden's recipes for such inventive dishes as "I Know Why the Cajun Burger Sings," "The Foot Feta-ish Burger," and "A Good Manchego Is Hard to Find," among others, will see print.
The literary follow-up to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy is coming in August, according to the Guardian. The book, That Which Does Not Kill, was reportedly completed in November by David Lagercrantz, after the original author, Stieg Larsson, died in 2004. Although plot details are currently unavailable, this next installment will again feature Lisbeth Salander in the spotlight — because how can it not?
"Looking Back: The Ninth White Columns Annual," Selected by Cleopatra's
320 West 13th Street, through February 21
Quick message to all those forever worrying that art is going to hell, that the art world is corrupt, that money is dominating the airways, or who endlessly accuse others of having bad values: This packed wunderkammer of a show tells us that art is taking good care of itself, isn't in bad shape, and that if one takes the time to get around, keep one's eyes open, and isn’t guided by agendas, there are choice diamonds spread throughout the rough of the supposedly complicit art galleries. At least that's the message of the ninth installment of this annual survey, where outside curators select works of art that have been seen in New York over the previous year. This year, curators from the excellent collective Cleopatra's give us Josh Kine's embedded wall fridge of bottles of Red Bull and DayQuil; Lily van der Stokker's pink painted Yelling Woman; Guy Goodwin's huge colorful cardboard wall-thing; and much else that belies the doomsaying of moralizers and Chicken Littles.
Last week, Shovel Ready, the crime novel about a garbage-man turned hit-man in a near-future dystopian New York, written by Vulture contributing editor Adam Sternbergh, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Here, we asked Sternbergh to annotate a short excerpt from the sequel, Near Enemy, which was published earlier this month — including thoughts on history's first murder, the dubious appeal of Pepé Le Pew, and just how crazy New York apartment locks used to be.
This used to be a city of locksOriginally, this line, which is now the first line of Chapter 2, was the very first line in the novel. I still like it as a potential opening line — and I have a real fetish for great opening lines — but I eventually decided to start the novel with an extremely short Chapter 1. (It’s eight lines and 54 words long.) I really enjoy when books throw you directly into the action with a punchy opening. The punchiest opening ever, in all likelihood, is the one for Don Winslow’s Savages, which notoriously starts with a first chapter that reads, in its entirety: “Fuck you.” Depending on your temperament, that’s either grating or exhilarating (I lean toward the latter), but it definitely gets your attention..
Every home, at least five, down the door, like a vault.
Fox lockThese are all real kinds of locks. The Fox Lock, also known as a Police Lock (or the Fox Police Lock), was designed by a German immigrant and Staten Island resident, Emiel Fox, at the turn of the 19th century. In the most popular iteration of the Fox Lock, when you turn a key, two horizontal bars bolted to the middle of the door extend out into the door’s frame. (There’s another variation of Fox’s Police Lock that involves a metal bar that’s propped on an angle against the door itself.) The Fox is a serious, badass lock, and a fixture of movies and TV shows about New York in the 1970s — the kinds of shows where New Yorkers would come home, then ritually twist and secure multiple locks as if they lived inside Fort Knox. (At this lock-selling site, the Fox Lock is introduced with the line, “This lock has to be the ultimate prop if you are making a movie about NY City,” which is true.) As a kid growing up far away from New York City, that ritual — the Locking of the Locks — seemed emblematic to me of what life in chaotic, lawless, crime-ridden New York must be like..
Funny name, that last one.
Neither word exactly conjures security.
The frequent collaborators John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett seem to be everywhere these days, not just geographically but narratively. Whether the tale they’re telling is psychological (as in the recent Broadway Glass Menagerie) or sociopolitical (Black Watch) or mytho-historical (the Alan Cumming Macbeth) or just groovy (What’s It All About?, the Burt Bacharach revue Hoggett put together) they almost always manage the difficult trick of cutting to the bone while raising the emotional temperature. To do this, they bring a certain amount of magic to their realism, as when Laura in that great Glass Menagerie made her first entrance and final exit through a kind of memory-wormhole in a sofa. But they also bring a certain amount of realism to their magic, and that’s an iffier proposition. At any rate, it’s a problem in their production of Let the Right One In, a vampire romance now at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo. The show — directed by Tiffany, with Hoggett as associate director and also in charge of movement — finds the pair at the top of their form visually and emotionally but intellectually overwrought, if not sucked dry.
Larry David regarded a brown leather messenger bag on the floor of a studio above West 42nd Street and announced, to no one in particular: “I never had a purse before in my life. Now all of a sudden I have a purse.”
“It’s not really a purse,” his co-star Rita Wilson assured him. “It’s a satchel.”
“No,” David insisted, “it’s a purse. There’s stuff in there that’s purse-y.”
“It has a long strap,” Wilson countered.
“How far do you ever really have to carry it?” Anna Shapiro, the director, asked. “It would be a purse if you ever had to carry it to a car.”
Looks like one more Mara Wilson movie is headed to Broadway: Alan Menken told EW Radio this week that he's currently hard at work writing the score for a Mrs. Doubtfire musical alongside the movie's own Harvey Fierstein, who's writing the book. (David Zippel is handling lyrics.) Menken cautioned that the trio was "in the early stages," but they were all "really enjoying working on it." As will, we imagine, Broadway's finest pyrotechnicians.
Most of us have spent at least a little bit of time standing in front of a painting in a museum, nodding meaningfully despite having no idea what exactly we were looking at. (Why are the clocks melting?) Over at Pacific Standard, Tom Jacobs runs down some interesting new research suggesting that when people are primed with thoughts of death, they process weird art in a different, more thoughtful way than they do when they're not focused on the morbid.
Like “humanistic Judaism,” the term “imaginative theater” ought to be a redundancy. (Shouldn’t all theater be imaginative?) Still, some troupes seek to differentiate themselves from the mainstream with the homespun, less literal storytelling techniques the term seems to imply: puppetry, shadow play, choral speech, mime. It’s no coincidence that these techniques are also cheaper than the ones you find on Broadway; imaginative theater exists in reaction against spectacularism, and often in reaction against the kinds of narratives that invite it. Though it’s a commercial run, The Woodsman, now playing at the 59E59 theater complex, is thus a perfect example of the genre, not only offering a marvelous, minimalist staging but also taking as its text the backstory of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz books, a tale steeped in dawn-of-the-machine-age anxiety. The production, by the young troupe Strangemen & Co. — mission statement: “to simply honor what is truthful one story at a time” — looks like what might happen if Shakers put on Wicked.
For years, A Song of Ice and Fire fans have argued over the true nature of Coldhands, a mysterious, vaguely undead character who assists Bran Stark in his journey north of the Wall. Is he, as many argue, actually Bran's long-vanished uncle Benjen in disguise? Now, thanks to one intrepid Redditor, we have our answer. User _honeybird visited Texas A&M's Cushing Library to read the original manuscript of A Dance With Dragons, which was full of numerous handwritten notes between George R.R. Martin and his editor, Anne Groell. Scribbled in the margins at Coldhands' first appearance, Groell asks, "Is this Benjen? I think it's Benjen ... [smiley face]." Martin's response, circled in red: "NO." If only all ASOIAF fan debates were so easily solved; now we just need Groell to ask a question about Jojen Paste, and the world of message boards can live in harmony forevermore.
Taxi alums Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Carol Kane, Marilu Henner, James Burrows, Christopher Lloyd, Rhea Perlman, and co-creator James L. Brooks all turned out for their former cast maste Tony Danza’s star turn in Honeymoon in Vegas last night. After a post-show party at Hard Rock Café, the whole gang sat together at a long table, chatting and dancing late into the night.
“Those are the people I started with,” Danza told Vulture. “Those are the people who accepted a fighter from New York who never acted before on their TV show." He added, "I’m serious. That acceptance, that welcoming, is why I'm here. And so, for me, it was an incredible thing to have them here.”
The new musical Honeymoon in Vegas is a throwback, and not just because it’s based on a 1992 movie that was, even then, somewhat retrograde in its humor. Cancel the “somewhat”: The plot hinges on a man trying to discharge a gambling debt by pimping out his fiancée. Presumably, the backwardness of this affectionate glance at ring-a-ding-dingism was intentional; the screenplay by Andrew Bergman, who also directed, mines its humor from the kind of character who would exact such a deal (a slimebag named Tommy Korman) and the kind of character who would accept it (a commitment-phobic mama’s boy named Jack Singer). Naturally, the girl herself, Betsy Nolan, though the apex of the triangle, was not so interesting. She was just hot.
Would you like to see a two-hander in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays a hunky but bashful British beekeeper, hemming and half-smiling, while Ruth Wilson, so recently embaubled with a Golden Globe for The Affair, plays a charmingly ditzy astrophysicist? Would you like to watch the pair meet cute at a barbecue, grope their way toward romance, survive infidelity, and face tragedy together? I would; it sounds like an engaging play. Unfortunately it’s not the one now running at the Manhattan Theatre Club under the title Constellations, even though all those things do happen in it. But since Nick Payne, the author, is unwilling to give us that romantic trifle, this delightful, beautifully acted, and infuriating new drama is so much more, and less.
When you read enough of Thomas Pynchon's novels (actually, make that any of his fiction), you begin to understand why the author has gone out of his way to stay out of the public eye since the 1960s. Pynchon's view of the world is strange — people are shady, corporations are never up to any good, and we're all going to go through this life and never find the answers to some of our bigger questions. Whether it’s the massive Gravity's Rainbow, a book considered a life accomplishment to some upon completion; or Inherent Vice's paranoid, psychedelic take on hard-boiled detective fiction (immortalized onscreen in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation, a Pynchon first), there's always something ominous on the horizon in the author's books.
These nebulous, darkened black-and-white Polaroid pictures of movie stars and vixens were taken by an anonymous artist known only as Type 42 — after the instant self-developing film he or she used — off small TV screens in dark rooms. The images come from the 1960s but didn’t emerge until 2012, when an artist stumbled on the whole cache (hallelujah!). Most are inscribed with the name of the actress, maybe her measurements, and occasionally a film title, and always lettered in a laboriously deliberate hand — the i’s dotted not above, but to the right. In an essay accompanying the recent catalogue, Fame Is the Name of the Game …, the artist Cindy Sherman calls the work “an exhaustive study of what it is to be a woman.” She writes, “We could assume it was a man since almost all the images are of women, but perhaps this was a woman trying to understand her role models.” Above all, “these photos are the evidence of someone who watched a lot of television, had a lot of Polaroid film, and was obsessed.” She’s right: Whoever is seeing these women is seeing them intensely. Anita Ekberg hoisting her chest; Kim Novak in a bathtub; Jane Fonda, in a glittery bra, marked “34-22-34.” Foggy desires and unseen urges attend all these pictures, glimpses of a pre-VCR world when any erotic charge gotten from television had to be held in memory. But this photographer needed those images to exist forever now, close at hand, available for careful perusal. That the film is Polaroid suggests that he or she saw them as something furtive, to be done undercover, without taking film to be developed. Like all good art, these pictures are secrets hiding in the light.
The book business in 2015 is pretty much a crapshoot, but it’s hard to believe that even the canniest insider could’ve predicted the sales success that indie publisher Melville House has had with The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture.
The Suicide, Nikolai Erdman’s biting 1928 satire of Soviet thought control, so overflows with ironies that they seem to slosh into real life. To begin with, the play died by its own hand: Erdman’s anti-authoritarian comedy (a character says he read Marx but didn’t like it) was deemed too subversive for the Soviet stage and was therefore suppressed — at least until the Soviet Union, too, self-destructed. And Erdman, in trying to have it produced in the first place, committed a kind of cultural suicide; Stalin not only sent him to Siberia but banned him from writing any more plays for adults. (He was allowed to write for children.) Nor can the play catch a break in the West: Its 1980 Broadway debut, starring Derek Jacobi as the poor schmo who just wants to be left alone to end it all, expired in two months. More recently, theaters have tried rejiggering it as a contemporary musical about paparazzi and pop stars or renaming it Goodbye Cruel World. Nothing seems to work.
Thirty years ago this fall, The Cosby Show debuted on NBC, and its star was catapulted into the comedic stratosphere. The timing is prime, then, for the release of a sprawling biography. Written by former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker, Cosby: His Life and Times documents the man’s rise from the Philadelphia projects, while also detailing the creation of his family sitcom and the murder of his son Ennis in 1997.
The book is notable, however, for its complete avoidance of sexual abuse allegations that have dogged Cosby for more than a decade. In a statement to Buzzfeed's Kate Aurthur, Whitaker says, "I didn’t want to print allegations that I couldn’t confirm independently." Regardless, their absence is glaring. Consider the following timeline an appendix to the book.
If gunmen hadn’t attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo today, killing 12 people (including the provocative magazine’s editor-in-chief), the conflict over Islam’s place in Europe would still have been Paris’s topic one. There were yesterday’s rallies in Germany to talk about, some in sympathy with France’s anti-immigrant National Front, but also the publication of the sixth novel by notorious anti-Muslim provocateur Michel Houellebecq, out today. A caricature of Houellebecq graces Charlie Hebdo’s new cover, after all.