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  • Posted 10/23/14 at 10:00 PM

Theater Review: The Believable Gut Punch of Disgraced

It’s a good thing that the playwright Ayad Akhtar is Muslim, because if any non-Muslim wrote Disgraced — and you could almost imagine someone like Bruce Norris wanting to — the response from both left and right would be furious. As it is, the intense 80-minute drama, which seems to ask whether there is something inherent in Islam that predisposes believers to violence, incites furious responses anyway; at the preview I attended, a member of the audience, echoing one character’s description of the Muslim protagonist, shouted, “He is a fucking animal!” But even the non-shouters looked pretty stunned by the play’s brutal climax. I was too, despite having seen it before, in a much more intimate staging produced by Lincoln Center Theater at the Claire Tow in 2012. This bigger, more glamorous Broadway version exposes more faults and infelicities, but also strips away one’s liberal pieties more effectively. Perhaps Disgraced won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize not so much for drama as for bravery. 

Gridding out the distribution of privilege. »

Watch Meryl Streep Sing in Into the Woods

Come for the beanstalk, stay for Meryl Streep singing. Finally! What we've all been waiting for: a bit of Meryl singing "Stay With Me," the emotional mother-daugther ballad from Into the Woods. If you're a fan of Mamma Mia! (the movie), it's a wonderful return to form. The singing starts at 2:30.

  • Posted 10/23/14 at 12:20 PM
  • Books

The Joan Didion Documentary Kickstarter Raised $80K in 1 Day

As of today, Joan Didion can cross “crowd-funding” off her bucket list. The laconic 79-year-old essayist — who vivisected the '60s, became half of a Hollywood power couple, and more recently wrote two best-sellers about losing her husband and daughter suddenly — will be the subject of a documentary titled (aptly, if unoriginally) We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. Her nephew, the actor Griffin Dunne, who will co-direct it with documentary veteran Susanne Rostock, put the project up on Kickstarter yesterday. It reached its goal of $80,000 at 10:30, roughly 24 hours later.

The doc will alternate old photos of Didion with snippets of her reading selected passages. »

  • Posted 10/23/14 at 9:00 AM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Brooklyn Superhero Supply, in The Fortress of Solitude

There’s a moment three-quarters of the way through the first act of The Fortress of Solitude, a new musical based on the Jonathan Lethem novel, when all of the show’s developing threads combine and resolve in a marvelous sequence called “Take Me to the Bridge.” By this point we have met the major characters, especially Dylan Ebdus, a white boy living in what is now upscale Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, but was then, in 1975, just ramshackle Gowanus. His mother having abandoned him to find herself in California, Dylan exists in a kind of frozen sadness with his withdrawn father, an unsuccessful painter, and in a kind of terrified awe of his neighbors, most of whom are black and much cooler than he. 

Two Brooklyn boys, two Brooklyn stories. »

Vincent Kartheiser on Playing Billy Wilder Onstage and Closing Out Mad Men

Now that Mad Men has wrapped filming the second half of its final season, Vincent Kartheiser has time for pursuits that allow him to keep his natural hairline. Starting this week, he'll swap Pete Campbell's deliciously Waspy accent for an Austrian one: He's playing Billy Wilder in the new Billy & Ray — about the director's time making the noir classic Double Indemnity with Raymond Chandler — Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theater (Garry Marshall directs). Kartheiser spoke to Vulture about his leotard-wearing, theater-kid past and the end of the road for Pete Campbell. (You can listen to a portion of the interview over at The Frame, Southern California Public Radio's new arts and entertainment show.)

"So in this situation, he’s the friendly nice person, and I’m the dick. Is that what you’re saying?" »

  • Posted 10/20/14 at 10:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: The Lost Weekend (or at Least Evening) That Is Billy & Ray

Plays about writing are bores or lies or both. The drama of the process, entirely internal and largely concerned with semicolons, can’t be staged, so a different drama has to be manufactured. Usually this involves clichéd obstacles and a sort of deus ex typewriter for the climax, justifying yet somehow invalidating everything that came before. You could argue that the vicissitudes of writing movies instead of prose — the collaborators, the studios, the test audiences, the Hays Office — offer a dramatist many ways around the problem, which is why there’s a mini-genre of comedies about screenplays. Indeed, those things did help Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias, which in 2004 hitched a ride on the back of Gone With the Wind, telling the story of its emergency plot transplant at the hands of David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming, and Ben Hecht. The resultant play wasn’t awful; for that we had to wait until Billy & Ray, the new supposed comedy at the Vineyard about the writing of the 1944 classic Double Indemnity. All the same tools produce a unique mess, and the best thing I can say for it is that it should make a good deterrent.

"The playwright has the excuse of being a relative novice." »

  • Posted 10/20/14 at 2:00 PM
  • Tv

The Game of Thrones Costume Department Is Trolling George R.R. Martin

There's an apocryphal story in Game of Thrones fandom that goes like this: Around 1997, author George R.R. Martin saw Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin, and, like many other people, hated it. Martin's ire was particularly drawn to George Clooney's infamous bat-nipples, and he began looking for a way to get literary revenge. Whether or not the story is true, this much is fact: Starting with 1998's A Clash of Kings, the author introduced a new phrase to the Westerosi lexicon: "as useless as nipples on a breastplate." So far in the "Song of Ice and Fire" series, Martin has used the expression to describe everything from dragonglass knives to Grand Maester Pycelle. It's clear: Despite how much GRRM loves nipples in other contexts, he really does not like them on breastplates.

Why is why it's so funny to see these costumes from the show. »

  • Posted 10/20/14 at 11:40 AM
  • Books

See the Latest Installment of Marcel the Shell With Shoes On

Just in time for his new book, Marcel the Shell is back in his third installment. Come for his thoughts on shrimp ("the idiots of the sea") and stay to see what happens when he sneezes. It's completely adorable.

  • Posted 10/20/14 at 12:52 AM
  • Books

Mark Frost Is Writing a Twin Peaks Book

As you may have heard, that gum you like is going to come back in style (read: Twin Peaks is returning to TV). And to prepare fans for the return of the cult hit 25 years after it first debuted, David Lynch's co-creator, Mark Frost, plans to release a novel titled The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks to catch us up on what has happened to the characters since we last saw them. "This has long been a dream project of mine that will bring a whole other aspect of the world of Twin Peaks to life, for old fans and new,” Frost said. “I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

  • Posted 10/17/14 at 5:10 PM

Theater Review: Puppets à la Russe, in Basil Twist’s The Rite of Spring

Basil Twist has been famous for stretching the boundaries of puppetry at least since his 1998 water-tank ballet of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. For Twist, the aim of the boundary-stretching seems at first to be abstraction; Symphonie’s leading roles were played by feathers, glitter, dyes, and bubbles. Likewise, in The Rite of Spring, a stunning three-part program set to Stravinsky, there are no goofy-faced sock people or mouthy marionettes. In the curtain-raiser, the four-minute Feu d’artifice (Fireworks), a large Futurist painting comes to life, with twirling disks and pyramidal prisms that unfold and shut like mouths or books. No characters, no tale.

"The audience responds as if to an animated narrative." »

  • Posted 10/17/14 at 4:15 PM
  • Tv

Given How the Story Plays Out, This News of a Marley & Me TV Pilot Is Odd

Undeterred by the failure of Animal Practice, NBC is banking once more on the American public's obvious love for adorable animals, giving a put pilot commitment to a TV adaptation of Marley & Me. Or, seeing as the network also ordered another IT Crowd remake, maybe it's just getting in on the ground floor of the sure-to-be forthcoming wave of mid-2000s nostalgia. Both versions of Marley & Me have ended with the death of the eponymous dog, and it's unclear what the story's move to a serialized medium like television means for the beloved pet's longevity. Will Marley die in May sweeps every year, only to return each September as if nothing had changed — or, as in Lost, will the show postpone Marley's fatal case of gastric dilatation volvulus until the show receives a concrete end date? Either way, John Grogan keeps getting those checks.

There’s Slim Hope for Michael Chabon’s Hobgoblin to Make It to TV

Michael Chabon says there is still a chance his Hobgoblin project may come to fruition as a television show. “Not by FX, but I hope so,” he told Vulture at the New Yorker Festival party on Saturday. “It’s not entirely a dead parrot,” the author said of the story set in the Nazi era. “We’ll see. It’s almost dead,” he added. There is no action at all on the long-rumored television adaptation of his novel Kavalier & Clay. “I would like to report there was, but no, that one’s still very much dead, as far as I know,” Chabon said. “TV seemed like it was going to be this wonderful new opportunity,” he mused. “So far, it hasn’t been that yet.”

  • Posted 10/16/14 at 10:00 PM

Theater Review: On the Town Can Still Cook, Too

On the Town is a heartbreakingly youthful work: both about youth and by youth. Watching its three sailors pursue a lifetime of adventure while on 24-hour shore leave in New York, New York, you can’t help sensing the shadows of the three giddy pals who knocked the show together in 1944. The whole project took just six months from idea to opening. How, in that time, did Betty Comden and Adolph Green manage to fashion a feasible Broadway libretto from the ballet Fancy Free, which had premiered (with music by Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Jerome Robbins) just that spring? How did Bernstein manage, between conducting gigs, to provide the entirely new score he insisted upon? These are the kinds of challenges only fledglings take on; at opening night that December, Green was barely 30, Comden and Bernstein (and Robbins) not even. Who could imagine that their freshman lark would prove so enduring? And yet here it is, 70 years later, in its third Broadway revival, as big and breakneck and beautiful as ever.

An orchestra of 28 works wonders. »

Gamergate’s Silver Lining

Gamergate has not been a happy episode for anyone. The controversy encapsulated in the #Gamergate hashtag, which some of its proponents are claiming is about corruption in gaming journalism but that is really primarily about misogyny and harassment (Gawker’s rundown helps explain, as does Jennifer Vineyard’s piece in Vulture), has featured vile rhetoric, frequent doxxing of women involved in the gaming world, and death threats that have led to some of those same women being driven from their home and canceling speaking engagements.


Five Stars: A Journey Through 185 Amazon Reviews Written by Anne Rice

Like so many once-goth teens who grew up in the 1990s, I am a huge Anne Rice fan. Although the last Rice novel that I read was 1998’s The Vampire Armand, I read and reread, often several times, everything she had written before that. Almost all of those books I would heartily give five stars. Since then, though I’ve lost contact with her novels, I have kept up with a lot of her other work, checking in every so often on her website,

Nothing beats her reviews. »

John Grisham Sticks Up for 60-Year-Old Guys Who Download Child Porn

You can put away your fake third boob, because John Grisham just found an even better way to guarantee that your name will appear in headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons. The best-selling author, who has a new novel coming out next week, told The Telegraph that the U.S. justice system treats people who look at child pornography too harshly. "We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who've never harmed anybody, would never touch a child," he said. "But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn."

His friend got locked up with a "bunch of perverts" just for downloading images of underage girls. »

  • Posted 10/15/14 at 11:00 AM

Theater Review: Found Is ‘a Delight’

Slackers don’t usually get very far in musicals. From Oklahoma! to Gypsy and beyond, American-style can-do-ism is built into the form; it’s hard to mumble a showstopper. And yet here is Found, the touching and clever new musical at the Atlantic, about a bunch of 20-somethings with nearly flatline ambitions. You would think that its authors — Eli Bolin (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree (book) — would have found it nearly impossible to scale theatrical songs to such characters. But when Davy, their protagonist, gets fired first thing from his barely-a-job writing listings for a Chicago alt-weekly and the scope of his world shrinks to the diameter of a joint, they find the perfect expression of his downsize dreams in an "I Want" song called “Weird Day.” “I want do something that I love,” he sings, “and do it with people that I love.” Found is the American musical’s first emotionally satisfying case for thinking small — and perhaps therefore the first emotionally satisfying musical for the post-bust generation.

"A wild notion for a musical to pursue." »

  • Posted 10/15/14 at 9:24 AM
  • Books

Here Are the Finalists for the National Book Award

The 20 books on the short list for the 2014 National Book Awards were just announced. Just as in the other NBA, they can't all be champions: The winners in each category will be announced November 19.


  • Posted 10/14/14 at 2:00 PM
  • Reading

10 Things You Learn From Reading Neil Patrick Harris’s Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris — or, NPH as I’ll be calling him — has had an enviable life. The 41-year-old actor has starred on two hit TV shows, first as a child star on Doogie Howser, then as lothario Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. He is a Tony Award–winning actor, an Emmy Award–winning host of the Tonys, president of the Magic Castle, and arguably the biggest out gay male celebrity. You ostensibly get to live all of this amazing life through his new autobiography, Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography, which is written like an adventure book with multiple options. You can hop from page to page or just read it straight through; either way, you will find amusing anecdotes, from the first time he had gay sex to the time Scott Caan tried to get into a “fight” with him.

Dustin Diamond is one of the “more unpleasant people." »

Why Queen of the Tearling Will Tide You Over If You Can’t Wait for the Next Game of Thrones Book

The Queen of the Tearling — the first installment in a trilogy of novels by Erika Johansen that has already been optioned for a Warner Bros. franchise to star Emma Watson, reuniting her with Harry Potter producer David Heyman — has been called “the female Game of Thrones” and “the lady Game of Thrones.” This is funny, of course, because the female version of Game of Thrones is ... Game of Thrones, which has its own dominating female characters, like Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Arya Stark, Asha/Yara Greyjoy, Melisandre, and on and on. So while the phrasing in the hype surrounding The Queen of the Tearling (which HarperCollins published in July) is a bit off, some undeniable parallels can be found between the Johansen novel and the George R.R. Martin book series that spawned HBO’s Thrones, and you’ll find references to other fantasy titles as well. Here are a few similarities we found when we finally got around to reading it:

A heroine not unlike Khaleesi, only without dragons. »


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