The great vernacular revolution of the 1960s turned theatrical dialogue from a prancing pony into a workhorse. With realism ascendant, serious drama, and eventually comedy, demanded a perfect facsimile of actual speech, complete with ums and potholes and multiple midcourse corrections. A little rough poetry might be permissible, but witty banter, as it once was called, became immediately suspect under the new regime: as effete as port wine, as cheap as rickrack. So what was a witty banterer to do? Tom Stoppard’s solution, in his 1982 play The Real Thing, was to create a world in which persiflage is the mother tongue. Characters who do not merely employ but juggle words could justify his bent for epigrams. (“Public postures have the configuration of private derangement.”) And who would those characters be? Theater types, of course: Playwrights and the actors to whom they feed lines.
I have seen some pretty oddball acts of book flakkery in my tenure as literary critic. There was the Fifty Shades knockoff that arrived at my door packaged with lingerie and a lipstick-smudged note; the pitch letter that impugned the intellect of any reviewer who declined to cover the book in question; the loon who implored me, weekly, to join her in discussing her novel in her private chateau in France; the book trailer for Nelson DeMille’s Wild Fire.
But all of these, and many more, were handily trumped in brazenness and bad taste by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s impromptu act of book promotion yesterday. At a press conference about New York and New Jersey’s poorly conceived, poorly executed, much-criticized Ebola quarantine policy, the governor veered weirdly off-message — or on it, from that all-consuming perspective of, you know, the ego. “I'm asking those people who were in contact with infected people: Stay at home for 21 days. We will pay,” the governor said. “Enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, read a book, read my book.”
Suzan-Lori Parks has a lot of nerve. A few years back she wrote and organized something she called "365 Days/365 Plays," which really was what its name suggested. Before that, in Topdog/Underdog, she put onstage a pair of black brothers who made their livings impersonating Lincoln and Booth, assassination included. (She won the Pulitzer Prize for it.) Her take on The Scarlet Letter, or rather one of her takes, was titled Fucking A. She often writes the songs that accompany her shows. She did something to Porgy and Bess that Stephen Sondheim didn’t like.
Are Marco Breuer's artworks photographs? True, they are made with photographic paper exposed to light, but they usually display only minimal evidence of an image from life. He makes them instead by first flashing them with light to blacken the surface, then beginning to carve into the physical material itself: burning it, scraping it, even occasionally using his teeth on it. They are distant cousins of the manipulated SX-70 photograph or the photogram, that favorite form of beginning photo students in which objects are set on a sheet of photo paper and rendered in silhouette. Breuer, though, takes those techniques right up to edge of sculpting, heavily working his surfaces over and over to reveal the paper's dye layers. Notably, he uses traditional photo papers, the kind that require a darkroom. In destroying them, he makes reference to the not-so-slow disappearance of analog film itself. (They bring to mind the liquidy "pulls" of Ellen Carey, which also deploy photographic dyes in unexpected ways.) The dense grids and patterns that result are a little bit Klee, a little bit Pollock, and altogether beautiful.
Marco Breuer's work is on view at Yossi Milo Gallery through November 1.
The opening of Francesco Vezzoli’s new exhibition of very old marble heads at MoMA PS1 on October 26 wasn’t an especially imperial affair — and it wasn’t just because it was in Queens on a blustery Sunday. Vezzoli, who grew up in Italy but went to art school at Central Saint Martins in London, has become a favorite of the art-and-fashion set: Miuccia Prada has long been a patron, and Visionaire’s Cecilia Dean, W’s Stefano Tonchi, and Derek Blasberg of Harper's Bazaar joined the museum curators and art-world enthusiasts (Jeffrey Deitch, Justin Vivian Bond) to toast the installation. (Later, they retreated to Diana Picasso’s for dinner, where they were joined by Marina Abramovic and Matt Dillon.)
It was a shitstorm that ended in a witch hunt. “If this painting is censored, I’m canceling the show,” snapped English megacollector Charles Saatchi. He said this to me privately in the early hours of September 18, 1999, amidst an exhibition installation at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Days before, the New York Daily News had run the headline “B’KLYN GALLERY OF HORROR. GRUESOME MUSEUM SHOW STIRS CONTROVERSY.” The "gallery" was the Brooklyn Museum. The “horror” was Sensation, a show of about 40 young British artists from Saatchi's collection who'd emerged in the early 1990s, most of whom were already fading, making the show seem, to those in the art world, something of a non-event.
“The questions are the questions, Jeff. You know that,” South African novelist Lauren Beukes said to me, sitting at the Grey Dog Café on Mulberry Street, right before we were supposed to do a gig at Housing Works Bookstore with critic/novelist Lev Grossman titled “We’re All Mad Here.” Her novel Broken Monsters, a great horror-thriller perfect for the Halloween season, had just been featured on the Today Show. She’d come from doing a radio interview and was expressing worry that Amazon’s war with Hachette was going to eat into sales of a novel she thought was her best yet. As we began to talk, she was fielding TV and movie offers for Broken Monsters on her smartphone.
If you’re still feeling like there isn’t enough Beyoncé material in the universe for you to hear/watch/see/read/wear, take comfort: Today, Grand Central Books announced that it is publishing the “first comprehensive biography” of Beyoncé, which will be released in fall 2015. The unauthorized biography will be written by J. Randy Taraborrelli — who has previously written biographies of of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the Hilton family — and will not include interviews with Bey herself but will rely on secondary sources. Which means the role of Beyoncé’s authorized biographer is still up for grabs. We believe in you.
"In every epic fantasy, the world is a character" itself, said George R.R. Martin near the beginning of his recent visit to 92Y. That's why he's written a new book about the history and lore of his "Song of Ice and Fire" universe, The World of Ice and Fire, which he hopes will occupy fans long enough that they'll stop asking him when The Winds of Winter is coming out. Martin stopped by 92Y to discuss the book (which he produced in collaboration with superfans Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson), and in the process explained which of his dragons could take on Smaug ("Balerion could give him some trouble, but Smaug still has that whole 'talking' thing"). But the biggest surprise of all has nothing to do with fantasy novels — it's GRRM's delightful North Jersey accent. You'll never think of "da Targaryen kings" the same way again.
While fans anxiously await the arrival of The Winds of Winter, author George R.R. Martin has written a new book to sate their desire for all things Westeros. The World of Ice and Fire, produced in collaboration with superfans Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, is a massive compendium of the thousand-year history of Martin's fantasy world, all told from the perspective of one Maester Yandel. In an exclusive excerpt from the book, Yandel writes the history of Robert's Rebellion in terms that will certainly flatter the winning side.
One night at the Public Theater last September, Sting arrived onstage to perform some songs he had written for the upcoming musical The Last Ship. As the applause died down, an overenthusiastic, possibly soused fan in the audience yelled out, “You rock!”
“I did,” Sting instantly rejoined. “I did rock.”
With a glint in her eye and and an inviting tone in her voice, a woman next to me as we exited Marina Abramovic's latest outing at Sean Kelly Gallery asked, "Was it you who just felt me up? It was so nice." I looked at her, and then at her chest. We locked eyes. For an instant, I wanted to say "Yes, I will yes." Then — remembering that my vibe has never produced these sorts of encounters — I said, "I wish it'd been me, but it wasn't." And just like that, I snapped back from a dreamy life that never was to what I'd been thinking the instant before. Which was that the piece had been mumbo-jumbo, nothing more.
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.
New York's Jerry Saltz has called the MoMA's "Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs" a can't-miss event filled with "visual thunder, physical profundity, and oceanic joy." Here, we asked a few aspiring after-school critics what they thought about the exhibition.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.