My Black is Blacker Than Your Black

There has been a lot of anger over Lena Dunham and the success of her new HBO show Girls, but perhaps the most exhausting (if not exhaustive) attack is Flying Snakes in 3D!!!, a one-act show that ran between July 4-7 as part of the Ice Factory Festival.  Produced by the Everywhere Theater Group, Flying Snakes is an autobiographical story about under-privileged actors, writers, and directors who are frustrated that New York theater is controlled by rich, white men who have no interest in their stories.  This is mostly realized through a series of monologues.  Also, there are mutant flying snakes accidentally released from CIA headquarters.  The result is a series of confessional narratives spliced together with a fairly accurate spoof of classic Roger Corman schlock.  It may sound strange but it is not unprecedented: the original Godzilla, after all, was not only a monster movie but also a polemic against nuclear warfare. Continue reading “My Black is Blacker Than Your Black”

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Time Takes a Cigarette, Puts It In Your Mouth

Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit follows the lives and times of five literary men in England.  Each scene jumps ahead about five or six years, beginning in the group’s undergraduate years in Cambridge and concluding about twenty years later.  The scenes are snapshots and in only a few hours, we are given the same sense of breadth we would get from a nineteenth century novel.  And like Pinter’s Betrayal, The Common Pursuit achieves an incredible amount of depth by examining only a few moments in a lifetime.  The play is a great work by a first-rate writer, so it is unfortunate that the current revival by Roundabout yields such mixed results. Continue reading “Time Takes a Cigarette, Puts It In Your Mouth”

These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

About halfway through David Adjmi’s 3C, Brad (Jake Silbermann) confesses to his new roommate, Connie (Anna Chlumsky), that he is gay.  She tells him she has “these same feelings,” but she thinks he’s talking about being traumatized in the Vietnam War.  Connie, who compulsively seeks the approval of men but is also terrified of them, was once raped, and thinks she has found a kindred spirit in Brad.  The scene is brilliant—it borrows a standard trope from situation comedies, even hitting some of the same notes and same jokes we would see in an episode of Friends, but is instead covering a tragic subject.  We laugh because Brad and Connie misunderstand each other, and yet Connie is right in identifying with him: they both walk around with a terrible secret that corrupts any chance they have at happiness. Continue reading “These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends”

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

What a bizarre, wonderful first act.  Derek Ahonen’s new play, The Bad and the Better, opens with a breathless series of intertwined vignettes, each an ironic sendup of hardboiled fiction: there’s the alcoholic detective who hates his wife (William Apps), the secretary who is secretly in love with him (Sarah Lemp), the misogynistic undercover cop (David Nash) and his sweetheart (Cassandra Paras) who turns a blind eye to his philandering.  The city, of course, is being clandestinely run by a whiskey-swilling capitalist (Clyde Baldo) who is trying to get an amiable doofus (David Lanson) elected as the next governor of New York.  Meanwhile, a group of in-fighting anarchists plot the revolution.  Collectively, it plays like an episode of Twin Peaks or a Hal Hartley film, for the irony is not snarky but affectionate—The Bad and the Better basks in all its soapy glory. Continue reading “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Whiplash Girlchild in the Dark

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs is a political treatise disguised as a love story: it follows Severin von Kusiemski, a man who has been sexually and emotionally damaged by a scarring incident involving his aunt and his subsequent intellectualizing of women (for him, a man can either “be the tyrant or the slave.”)  He asks Wanda von Danajew, then, to serve as his tyrant, believing that his love for her will only grow with her cruelty.  Wanda, who loves Severin, decides to cure him of his sickness—let’s call it masochism, the condition that was named after Sacher-Masoch—by performing exactly as he asks her to.  They have a brief, destructive, hypersexual relationship, and Severin emerges more mature and clear-headed.  He concludes, finally, “That woman, as nature has created her and as man is at present educating her, is his enemy.  She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion.  This she can become only when she has the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and work.” Continue reading “Whiplash Girlchild in the Dark”

Spell My Name Correctly

Is there anything more delicious than a good play about politics?  Joseph Alsop (John Lithgow) is a nationally syndicated op-ed writer who believes the words “terrorize” and “interrogate” are synonymous with “interview.”  The Columnist follows Alsop for two decades of his forty-year career—from his battles with Joe McCarthy in the early ‘fifties to his cheerleading of the Vietnam War throughout the ‘sixties.  Alsop, a closeted homosexual, has a rocky English marriage with Washington socialite Susan Mary Jay Patten (Margaret Colin) as well as a strained relationship with his brother and sometimes partner Stewart (Boyd Gaines).  Though a lifelong Republican, he worships FDR and Kennedy—and ultimately, his run-ins with popular opinion over escalation in Vietnam lead to his decline in credibility. Continue reading “Spell My Name Correctly”

Is He Up Yet? Strindberg’s Playing with Fire at the New School

August Strindberg’s “cynical life” one-act Playing with Fire is a powder keg of emotional repression: Newt (Nathan James), a rich but unsuccessful painter, has never cared more than passingly for his wife Kerstin (Toccarra Cash).  They remain cordial to each other but turn elsewhere for love and lust.  Knut satisfies himself with cousin Adele (Jaleesa Capri), while Kerstin pines for their old friend Axel (James Edward Becton).  For an hour or so before breakfast is served, the four play at betrayal and toy with the possibility of major life changes, while, for the most part, refraining from treating any of it seriously.  An excess of money allows them the time and the safety of these games without any of the consequences. Continue reading “Is He Up Yet? Strindberg’s Playing with Fire at the New School”