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Theater Review: Taking Minor Pleasure in Tiny Beautiful Things

In 2010, two years before she became famous as the author of Wild, Cheryl Strayed took over writing the “Dear Sugar” advice column from a friend. She had none of the skills that traditionally go with such a position: She was not bossy, she was not snappy, she was not an orderly, lacquer-haired matron. In fact, she was a recovering heroin addict with a messy backstory who’d never met a sentence she couldn’t embroider ad infinitum. Still, she turned out to be good at the job, as a 2012 collection of her columns, called Tiny Beautiful Things, made clear on every page. The advice was, literally, the least of it. Sometimes she didn’t even answer the question at hand, or did so only after constructing a prose poem that was part moral fantasia and part autobiography. She pretended to no special expertise except the radical sympathy that came from surviving crises analogous to the ones her readers were facing. If she could not bring their problems to closure, she could sure write a paragraph.  

"Perfect little exercises in sense memory and commitment." »

  • Posted 12/7/16 at 9:30 AM

Where’s the Line Between Criticism and the Novel? Somewhere Inside Lynne Tillman’s Complete Madame Realism and Other Stories

What happens to criticism when it’s quartered within a work of fiction? What becomes of fiction when it’s put in service to criticism? It’s impossible to come to general answers to these questions, but they’re hard to avoid when considering Lynne Tillman’s new book The Complete Madame Realism and Other Stories, which collects three decades of work fusing the two modes of writing. You could think of the form as fiction and the content as criticism, but a simple conceptual split doesn’t account for the effects the two modes have on each other. Think of a centaur, a satyr, or a mermaid. Simple exchanges of anatomy don’t account for the hybrid creatures’ strangeness.

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  • Posted 12/7/16 at 9:07 AM

Sebastian Bach Had a Fanboy Moment With Geddy Lee While Shooting Gilmore Girls

One of the many joys of Gilmore Girls is the endless stream of enjoyable cameos: The Bangles, Barbara Boxer, Norman Mailer. But perhaps the most beloved appearance is by rocker Sebastian Bach as hoagie-shop owner and Lane's bandmate Gil. In the following excerpt from his new memoir, 18 and Life on Skid Row, out yesterday, Bach describes partying with Sally Struthers, getting recognized around the world, and how the show gave him a chance to meet one of his idols. 

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The 10 Best Books of 2016

There were many literary surprises in 2016 — we were forced to learn of Elena Ferrante’s true identity before we wanted to; in an Oprah-coordinated marketing assault we were treated to Colson Whitehead’s new novel a month before we expected it; and in accord with the year’s backwards logic, the runaway best-seller about ethnic identity was by a white guy from Ohio: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. We won’t forget these shocks, but what really mattered in 2016 transpired quietly. A changing of the guard is under way, and most of the year’s best books were debuts or sophomore efforts. I was disappointed by many of the year’s marquee releases (Whitehead’s was a glorious exception), but for every high-profile bomb there were several outstanding books from singular authors emerging on the fringes. These aren’t writers you can group into a movement, they aren’t bound by a narrow, parochial set of themes, but in their variousness they’ve shown that whatever else is wrong with the country, the American novel, story, and essay remain fertile forms.

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The 10 Best Art Shows of 2016

We're looking for clues. What art and which artists had inklings we were entering a paradigm shift? Who was already channeling that in their work? Peering through aesthetic lenses of hindsight to the turnabout of political authority, conflicted posturings, hidden narratives, and changes in moral code, we see human Geiger counters who were making art that gleaned the doors of chaos suddenly being held ajar.

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  • Posted 12/6/16 at 5:03 PM

Andreas Gursky Predicted the Future — and Present

Artists often channel the future, seeing patterns before they form and putting them in their work, so that later, in hindsight, the work explodes like a time bomb.

In the months before September 11, 2001, in the long stupor following George W. Bush being named president by the Supreme Court, German Über-photographer Andreas Gursky — known for his totalizing pictures of atriums, raves, hotel lobbies, and trading floors — made a spectacular color photograph of a Los Angeles big-box store. 99 Cent II, (Diptych) is all mesmerizing rows of shelves stocked with prismatic inexpensive goods arranged for shoppers' delight. This picture seems to channel the comfortable cherry-cola numbness soon shattered by the attacks, which followed repeated ignored warnings of international foreboding.

Now, Gursky has done it again with Amazon — a boat-sized picture made months before the recent U.S. election, in which he foreshadows something in our information systems in a state of such high-complexity and near unmaintainability that they live only on the verge of our understanding.

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Theater Review: A Long Commute on The Babylon Line

The first words spoken in Richard Greenberg’s The Babylon Line, which opened tonight in a fatally mild Lincoln Center Theater production directed by Terry Kinney, are “The End.” This is a daring literary gesture, neatly introducing some of the play’s themes: It is about writing and history and the fruitful tension between them. Unfortunately, because The Babylon Line is a play, not a novel or a semiotics paper, the gesture deflates as quickly as a pricked balloon, and comes to seem less like a clever feint than a premature epitaph for a story that fails to thrive.  

Deliberately bad writing from a terrific writer. »

  • Posted 12/4/16 at 9:00 PM

Theater Review: Dear Evan Hansen Moves Uptown, and Gains Something Indefinable

The big problem in writing great musicals is not the difficulty of writing great songs. The big problem is that the songs, great or not, are cannibals, picking the stories clean and leaving a pile of bones. It’s a zero-sum system. In musical dramas the problem is even worse, as innumerable failed adaptations of huge 18th-century novels have proved. (They often seem like CliffsNotes of CliffsNotes.) But when a musical drama clicks, an amazing fusion event occurs: The songs and the story enlarge each other in the process of becoming inseparable. Think of Sweeney Todd or, more intimately, Fun Home. And now add to the list Dear Evan Hansen, which opened tonight in a production beautifully directed by Michael Greif. I called the Off Broadway production at Second Stage this May “the feel-anxious musical of the season.” But it is even better on Broadway, so fine in its craft and rich in its gathering of themes that, like the best works of any genre, it rewards being seen again — and again. 


The relationship between the two families' mothers is resonant. »

  • Posted 12/3/16 at 1:20 PM
  • Cringe

Madonna Tells Sean Penn ‘I’m Still in Love With You’ and Offers to Remarry Him for the Low Bid of $150,000

Last night Madonna brought in $7.5 million dollars at an Art Basel auction fundraiser for Raising Malawi, the singer's nonprofit dedicated to providing aid to children in the African country. Let that empirical good stand as a light-giving beacon before you, as you make your way through the darkness that is all her jokes about being married to Sean Penn. “I’m still in love with you,” Madonna informed the actor, who was in attendance in Miami and to whom Madonna was married for four years. (Three photos of their nuptials were auctioned off for the occasion; they brought in $230,000.)  People reports that the singer also attempted to cajole Sean Penn to cough up $150,000 in exchange for her hand in marriage. Sorry, Vincent D'Onofrio's daughter! Penn was game for all of it, bidding on items throughout the night and eventually taking the stage, where he crawled between Madonna's legs as she moaned and slapped her into a handcuffs. “For once, he’s not the one being arrested,” Madonna joked, but perhaps we all should be.

Questlove Reveals How Lin-Manuel Miranda Would Don a Disguise to Watch Celebrities in the Hamilton Audience

As it turns out, that weird guy you saw in the bright blonde wig, coke-bottle glasses, and fake handlebar mustache staring at President Obama throughout the entirety of Hamilton was not, as you assumed, a potential security threat. It was Lin-Manuel Miranda! Hope the musical's creator and former leading man was okay with Questlove just absolutely blowing up his spot, because now the world knows Lin-Manuel Miranda used to purposely invite celebrity guests to Hamilton so he could watch their reaction to the show ... while in disguise. As Questlove told Entertainment Weekly :

“Whenever a high-profile celebrity would come, or someone of Obama’s caliber, Lin would not do Hamilton. So there’s a whole bunch of high-profile people like the president, and Oprah, [where] Lin would rather watch them watch the show. Obama’s never seen Lin as Hamilton, which is crazy to me. Lin sat in disguise. That’s how much of a nerd and dweeb Lin is. He kept tabs on everyone who watched — who got the jokes, who laughed the most, who didn’t get the jokes. Even the one high-profile celebrity that was on their phone more than they were watching the whole play. I would never name that because that person is very close to me. I don’t want to air them out! For real, he was like, 'This one yawned at this part. This one was sleepy but I forgave them because I knew they were on a long flight. This one gave it three standing ovations.' I’m like, 'Yo. Are you trying to tell me that every time somebody important was in the audience, you had your stand-in do it?' He’s like, 'Yep. Exactly.'"

So congratulations, Questlove. Looks like we know who will be serving as the Aaron Burr in Miranda the musical.

  • Posted 12/1/16 at 10:00 PM

Theater Review: A Bronx Tale Gets Up and Starts to Sing

There’s a good reason Broadway musicals traditionally leave the gangsters backstage. Except when handled with the greatest skill — as in, say, Guys and Dolls — stories that include mob hits or street violence or sadistic shakedowns are always going to conflict with the chipper razzmatazz that characterizes the form. Perhaps the authors of A Bronx Tale, which opened tonight at the Longacre, felt they could finesse that problem by splitting the difference between very dark works like West Side Story and very silly ones like Bullets Over Broadway. But no: For all the craft and polish applied, this musical winds up right in the middle of the wrong place. It’s an unmoving target.

The trouble with singing about crime. »

  • Posted 12/1/16 at 6:34 PM
  • Theater

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Is Likely Coming to Broadway

If you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan but haven’t been able to make it all the way to London’s Palace Theater to see The Cursed Child, then 2018 might be the year your dreams come true. The show’s producers have confirmed to Pottermore that they are in late-stage negotiations to take up residency at Broadway’s Lyric Theater. The Lyric is currently housing Cirque du Soleil’s first-ever Broadway-specific production, Paramour, but Deadline reports that the show will conclude its run in April to make way for massive theater renovations. “We’re not closing because business is bad,” Cirque du Soleil Theatricals CEO Scott Zeiger told Deadline. “They have a timeline for the work they want to do, and made the request. We had a friendly negotiation, and they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.”

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Watch a Star-studded Livestream Performance of The Hamilton Mixtape

You better work, work out an excuse to give your boss so you can watch this livestream without any distractions. In celebration of the release of The Hamilton Mixtape tomorrow, a very special Ham4Ham at the Richard Rodgers Theatre will be livestreamed beginning at 12:50 p.m. ET this afternoon. The Ham4Ham will feature a handful of artists from the mixtape including the Roots, Ja Rule, Ashanti, and Regina Spektor who will perform their respective songs in front of a live audience. Lin-Manuel Miranda's passion project has been in the works for years, with the mixtape featuring remixes, covers, and other songs inspired by the hit musical.

  • Posted 12/1/16 at 11:20 AM

After a Year and a Transfer to Broadway, The Humans Will Go on a National Tour

After a 502-performance run in three houses, The Humans is set to close out its time in New York. The 2016 Tony winner for Best Play will end its run at the Schoenfeld on January 15, as previously reported, and will not move on to yet another New York theater. However, this unusual play’s unusual life is hardly over: Producers Scott Rudin and Barry Diller announced today that the drama will launch a national tour in November 2017, starting at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, with a more complete schedule to be announced later on.

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New York Scalpers Who Use Ticket Bots Will Soon Face Jail Time

Ruin as many family vacations as you can between now and the end of January, scalpers who employ ticket bots. After that, it's on to the next grift. As of February 2017, the use of ticketing purchasing software, already illegal in New York State, is now punishable with jail time. Championed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Senator Chuck Schumer, and anyone who's tried to buy a ticket to anything, only to immediately find the show sold out and StubHub flooded with jacked-up prices, the bill (S.8123/A.10713) creates a "class A misdemeanor for using ticket bots, maintaining an interest in or control of 'bots,' and reselling tickets knowingly obtained with ticket bots." The punishment can include both fines and imprisonment. As Governor Cuomo said upon signing the bill on Monday, "These unscrupulous speculators and their underhanded tactics have manipulated the marketplace and often leave New Yorkers and visitors alike with little choice but to buy tickets on the secondary market at an exorbitant mark-up. It’s predatory, it’s wrong and, with this legislation, we are taking an important step towards restoring fairness and equity back to this multi-billion dollar industry.” Now let's be clear: You probably still aren't getting in to see Hamilton, but at least if you do, you won't have to sell your home and/or family in order to snag tickets.

7 Books You Need to Read This December

Each month, Boris Kachka offers nonfiction and fiction book recommendations. You should read as many of them as possible.

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  • Posted 11/30/16 at 9:00 PM

Theater Review: The Downs and Ups of Ride the Cyclone

It’s not impossible to find the right tone for a musical comedy about a gruesome subject: Look at Little Shop of Horrors, which both satirizes and honors the implications of its bloodthirsty-houseplant plot. But it’s very difficult — and anyway, one-off classics make poor examples. A sadly more typical case is that of Ride the Cyclone, a new–to–New York musical that opened tonight in a handsome MCC Theater production directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell. With its story about teenagers who find themselves in a kind of carny purgatory after dying in a roller-coaster derailment, it clearly wants to be both eerie and funny, as well as subversive, serious, touching, and great. As a result it’s a little bit of all of the above, except for the last. Indeed, you get the feeling that the show, which was in development in Canada for years before getting its American premiere in Chicago in 2015, has been rewritten so much that, like a corn dog, it has lost any sense of whatever it started out as.

Polished production of a very limited show. »

Here’s Your GIF Guide to the Best Moments From Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Drunk History Episode

The hotly anticipated Lin-Manuel Miranda episode of Drunk History finally aired last night on Comedy Central, where fans of Hamilton and history alike were treated to LMM’s honey-whiskey-infused narration of our new favorite Founding Father. The half-hour was filled with a bunch of delightful surprises, including unexpected cameos from Questlove and Hamilton original cast member Christopher Jackson, as well as some top-notch, definitely historically accurate commentary. (“Here comes sick ass Hamilton on a flaming ship. Your ass will never be the same!”) The full episode can be viewed here, and to celebrate this crowning historical achievement, we’ve went ahead and GIFed some of our favorite moments from the show.

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Forgotten H.G. Wells Ghost Story Comes Back From the Grave to Make Its Print Debut

Seventy years after his death, H.G. Wells is getting another shot to break into the world of  ghost stories. According to NPR, while searching through tens of thousands of pages written by the revolutionary science-fiction author in the University of Illinois's collection, Strand Magazine's managing editor Andrew Gulli found the manuscript for "The Haunted Ceiling." Not recognizing the title, Gulli checked with leading Wells scholars, who also knew nothing about the story, despite its being in the library's collection for years. Based on several narrative features and the distinctive handwriting (read as "indecipherable"), the scholars agreed it was authentic. "I went myself independently and I looked at the manuscript of The Time Machine, and it had that similar type of writing that was a nightmare to transcribe," Gulli told NPR. 

The story itself is about a man who is going insane because he's being haunted by a ghostly apparition of a dead woman on the ceiling. While the original reporting mentioned no theory on why the manuscript was not previously found in the decades since Wells's papers became open to the public, we're not ready to rule out that an invisible man from the past brought them in a time machine. Hear excerpts from the story below, or read the full version in The Strand

  • Posted 11/29/16 at 11:07 AM
  • Art

Please Pray for Adam Driver, Whose Interview Photo Shoot Took Place in an Abandoned Toilet Dungeon

Adam Driver sat down for a lengthy Interview chat with director Noah Baumbach about working with Martin Scorsese, playing Kylo Ren, and shooting Frances Ha, and then subsequently sat down sopping wet for a photo shoot on what can only be described as a toilet in a Soviet-era mental institution. Photographer Steven Klein shot the Silence star in all his grimy glory for the magazine, and you can see the rest of his photos here, provided "visible toilet filth" is not a phrase that turns you off. It's by no means the most audacious celebrity pictorial ever created (see Tom Hiddleston as a leather-daddy Ken doll for September's Interview cover, which was also shot by Klein), but Driver is still giving you pure realness in a haunted, dilapidated YMCA. He shouldn't even have his shoes off on that floor. Let's take a closer look.

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