By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Here's a Broadway diary courtesy of someone who never leaves at intermission—and, boy, is my ass tired.
First off, I saw the strong revival of Joe Turner's Come and Gone with an audience full of young students, whom you might think would be texting and talking back to the stage, since they couldn't possibly have the erudite theatergoing skills that I've long perfected. But they were completely rapt and respectful—they adored it! I now want to see everything with students instead of Ohio housewives with appliquéd blouses and boxes of crullers.
Another resuscitated melodrama, O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms, has lots of boulder lifting, baby killing, and sweaty sex on the rocks. It's The Flintstones meets The Young and the Restless. There are some heavy-handed touches (long stares, strenuous chewing), and the climactic horror doesn't seem that special because everyone's already been screaming from the get-go. But at least this is not a play we see a lot, and the production has a primal gustiness that will probably horrify just the right Ohio housewives. (PS: I used to say "Iowa housewives" until they proved to be far more liberated than anyone else here. Soon I'll be dropping "New Hampshire" and "Maine" references, too. I might even drop "housewives.")
Pretty much the same set of barren rocks is used for Waiting for Godot, though, unlike Elms, this show springs for a barren tree, too. The bedraggled stars—Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin—hit their stride in Act Two, with a heartbreaking display of brilliant chemistry and timing. But the night I went, a couple in the second row weirdly started making out in full view, without even going under an elm. So all that nihilism and despair made them hot? They'd probably be fornicating over at Exit the King.
I haven't seen The Philanthropist yet, but catty queens say that revival's ads should quote from the Times review: "Beats just about anything on Broadway this season." That, of course, is an edit from the full sentence: "For sheer dullness, this putative comedy beats just about anything on Broadway this season."
The 9 to 5 folks did an interesting edit of their own, and they actually put it into the Times. Their "ABCs" listing boldly stated "10 Outer Critics Circle nominations," until a few days later, when it was amended to the more accurate "three nominations." (Maybe there should be a new Dolly Parton song: "Changing three to 10/What a way to make a livin' . . .")
The show—a sort of Legally Blonde for the older set—is not exactly Mary Stuart, and Dolly's score is rather small-chested for Broadway, but the three leads are hugely appealing, and the whole thing has a feel-good quality that, for once, doesn't make you feel bad.
On the flipside, Next to Normal has beautiful moments, solid performances, and lots of truth. Alas, I ultimately thought it was absolute torture. If you hate someone, send them to see it.
Things got queasy when I caught Ethan Coen's trio of one-acts, Offices, and the set stalled twice, prompting one of the actors to quip, "I'm sensing a trend." They should probably do what 9 to 5 thought up when there were tech problems out of town—send Dolly Parton onstage!
Meanwhile, a theater piece has now officially spawned a second movie, with no technical drawbacks at all. At the Tribeca Film Festival, Crayton Robey's Making the Boys turned out to be a sweeping examination of Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band—the landmark play-turned-film of gay zinging and pathos—in which I'm a talking head, along with every other surviving gay in the arts. At the premiere, there was all new banter to savor. I heard Carson Kressley lend his bottle of water to Robey and quip, "Don't worry, I don't have swine flu . . . yet." But he apparently does have other stuff going on. On the panel after the screening, the ex–Queer Eye star told the crowd, "I'm on new ADD meds, and I just feel like riding a bike!" Me, too! Without a helmet!
I rode back to the festival for Barry Levinson's documentary PoliWood, which left one of its featured celebs, Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn, a little punchy. "I was making a different film than he was," admitted Burstyn about her director. "I thought we were making a film about Barack Obama and the political process. So it was a total surprise to see we were making a film about the effect television has on us!" But she liked it. In fact, she feels it beats just about anything this season.
The political process and the effects of TV were discussed at the IFC Media Project panel at the Paley Center, which started with moderator Gideon Yago thanking us "for braving swine flu to be here." (Judging by all the gags, one suspects people aren't taking this epidemic as hysterically as Joe Biden is.) The chosen media types started gabbing about the "sea change" in political coverage, and I was reminded that Tina Brown is a very slick and savvy speaker who effortlessly tosses off words like "rancor" and phrases like "feverish, partisan investigative journalism." Asked whether TV is a reductive medium, Brown said that when she had her own MSNBC show, some on-air conversations she was especially proud of didn't exactly get big ratings. "TV doesn't do well with nuance or explanation," said Brown. "It's a very hot medium. If there isn't conflict, it has to be manufactured." That must be why I'm getting booked a lot lately.