By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Say the two scariest words in the English language"poetry jam"and everyone starts running for the hills. But if they'd just think of the events as ritualized, rhyming anxiety sessionspublic therapy performed in crisp, cunty coupletsthey'd be down with them, know what I'm sayin'? Poetry jams are exhilarating showing-off exhibitionsbasically voguing balls where you spin words rather than spinning on your asswhich, though massively indulgent, manage to rail against oppression while whittling away at depression. Even trendier than panini, the (per-) verse marathons have taken over the East Village, cable, Broadway, and my living room, where I regularly rehearse Italian American perplex-ortations about how I'm an alto, not a Soprano/a petite ball, not a meatball/So get your oven mitts off my lasagna and stop doing the hokey-pokey with my gnocchi/Okeydokey, you shlocko Rocko from Okefenokee?
But mainly I'm an enthusiastic observera veritable meter maidwho was psyched to find rhyme and reason at the House of Xavier's Glam Slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café. The turnout was only so-so, but there was some lovely hostility aimed at guys who call you a 'ho, our jingoistic government, and most importantly, people who don't tip. MC Andre Diva Xavier, a raspy-voiced cross between Harvey Fierstein and Rosie Perez, was ovah reading the DJ, the bartender, mariconas, K-holers, and closet cases, but he dropped all shade to give my fellow judge Barbara Tucker the "ultimate drag queen surrender," which involved faux slashing his wrists and throwing his arms up in a crucifixion pose. Backstage, I was going to find out which record companies screwed Tucker over and go crucify them, but the singer said, "I've already taken care of them. They're bankrupt!" End of anxiety. Helleaux!
Afterward, House of Xavier pooh-bah Emanuel Xavier lamented his fringing within the fringing by telling me, "The gay agenda is not necessarily part of the hip-hop movement. The only Simmons that may ever feature me is Richard, not Russell." Possiblybut before we all crucify ourselves, at least Russell Simmons's Def Poetry Jam on Broadway includes a Jamaican sister who raps about wanting to eat mangoes "and lesbians from Montego Bay." And once you get past the DJ right out of Central Casting who says, "What's up, New York? Word up," all the Def Jam poets are saucy, funny, and powerful, as they tackle everything from airport security to Krispy Kremes. Naturally, the biggest response is nabbed by the one who dishes "the rich white guy from Texas . . . a crackhead president." Word to his mother.
Even in more traditional theater genres, Bush bashing is big business these days, since every show (except maybe the Billy Joel one) is primarily attended by rich, unhappy liberals. The highlight of Bill Bailey's Bewilderness has the Brit comic composing a techno song that mixes in Dubya's various kooky utterances on terrorism. Malapropisms have never been so danceable!
And you can laugh to them too. In A.R. Gurney's clever The Fourth Wall, Sandy Duncan's wifely character thinks Dubya's deeply misguided, and the audience squeals every time she says so. Gurney himself is no such clown. To do a play that puts down sitcoms while starring three sitcom stars is truly poetic.
The play references Ibsen, but if you want the whole Norwegian meatballin a complete ballthere's Amy Irving in Ghosts, her most ominous gig since Yentl. At the opening-night party at Café Deville, Irving was dramatically working a cig as she told me she's only offstage for three of the show's 80 intermissionless minutes. What does she do during the break? "Put on kneepads, drink some water, and blow my nose," she replied. How Monica Lewinsky! (But wait, now I'm Clintonbashing.) By the way, Irvingwho was in Brian De Palma's Carriedidn't catch the recent TV remake and said, "Brian was at my house the night it aired. He said, 'Oh! I forgot to record it! I'm taping Monday Night Football!' " Pig's blood, pigskinwhat's the difference?
Caryl Churchill's Far Away will never be remade as a TV movie; in its own semi-haunting way, it gets less accessible by the minute. At the after-party, I was dying to ask star Frances McDormand what the heck it all means, but I couldn't get up the nerve, so I asked her hubby, prize filmmaker Joel Coen. "I have no idea what it means," he said, squirming, "but it's beautiful!"
I know what The Emperor's Club meansthat cheating is so very wrongso at its premiere party, I found myself confessing to Kevin Kline (in verse) that a teacher once caught me being cagey. "This movie's about you!" he shrieked. Is Emperor's his big one, as it were? "Sophie's Choice was my big one, and it was all downhill from there," said Kevin. "No, I'm kidding. I try not to assign undue value to anything. Movies are like having a child." I've never done that, I interrupted. "But you were a child," he said. "A cheating little bastard!"