As Lily Tomlin puts it in the press kit, Tea With Mussolini stars “some of the best English actresses today and Cher.” Actually, Ms. Sarkisian LaPierre Bono, etc., tries her moxiest to brighten the proceedings as a gold-digging art collector who never seems to age through the years as she emits lines like, “Don’t give me that ‘Elsa darling’ crap! Just give me my goddamned Picasso!” In her fabulous finery, Cher even gets to sing an artful chorus of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”—and without a backup tape! But this watercolored tale of valiant grand dames, naughty fascists, a cuddly dog, and a butch lesbian archaeologist (Tomlin, in a real stretch) doesn’t sing—in fact, it becomes so schleppy toward the end, you wish it were Crack With Hitler.
After the film’s special screening last week, a cohort of Joan Plowright—who plays one of the cute, old fuddy-duddies—gushed to her, “I wanted it to go on much longer!” Gee, where can I buy friends like that? The equally affable Franco Zeffirelli, who directed Tea based on his own early experiences, told me he liked my shirt—”You look like you’re from the firing squad in Tosca“—then realized he wasn’t that far off; I’m a critic. “What was Cher like to work with?” I brilliantly wondered, angling for some dirt to perk up the evening. “There was a difficult…,” he blurted, then changed trains. “She brings heart and reality and echoes of things,” he said, instead. “She makes you feel something.” That’s true. Was the singing bit her own idea? “We ad-libbed,” related Zeffirelli. “I told her, ‘Sing something. Do the old number.”‘ What—”I Got You Babe”? He ignored that little interjection and continued with dignity, saying Cher could have done a much longer version of the song, “but she felt, ‘better to tantalize people.”‘ What a VH1 diva. Alas, despite her few bars, the movie might send people to a few bars.
An NBC diva, Linda Dano, is on her own mission, and now that Another World‘s going to another world, understandably it involves the quest for another job. Linda’s been broadcasting her desire to play Ally McBeal’s mother (yes, Ally has a mother—or so people assume). She even called me to say, “I’ve gotten so much response from people saying, ‘You’re right, you’d make a wonderful mother.’ I don’t know if that’s a compliment, because Ally’s so wacko and dysfunctional, they must think I am, too—but I love the show. In my dream of dreams, I think ‘Mommy is here, dear.”‘ And she’s not talking to that dancing baby.
In other maternal gossip, it’s not at all true that Soon-Yi Previn has already found naked pictures of Woody and their beautiful new daughter. Just get that twisted thought out of your perverted little heads and leave this perfectly functional family alone, why don’t ya! Calm down and picture this instead: A Brooks Brothers store opening on Fifth Avenue. Not my typical kind of bash for three reasons (Brooks Brothers, a store opening, and Fifth Avenue), but it was a Monday, when the only other option is Shocking Police Videos. The button-down event was a valiant attempt to combine the world of $1000 suits with that of people who won’t even pay for an hors d’oeuvre, but my notes about the result say: “Manhandled by security guard. Gospel choir blocking the stairs. Many suits, one drag queen. Kept running into whiny B-list types—or maybe that was a mirror. A lot of excited buzzing about ‘downtown colliding with uptown.’ Someone noted the Chippendale’s-type bartenders and extremely white crowd.” I left, not realizing you could collect a free shirt at the exit, but—on demand—a brave publicist went back in and got one for me, and even in my size (ladies’ petite). Now I can finally throw out that Tosca one. Button my mouth if I didn’t adore the whole evening!
I wore the new shirt to a fabulous free dinner at Le Cirque for Bertolucci‘s Besieged, though that movie was so stymieing it was better to focus on
the upcoming Trick, whose writer-
director Jim Fall happened to be at my table and totally besiegeable. Trick is about two guys looking for a place to fuck, and it features Tori Spelling—not as a bathroom attendant, but as the singing and dancing friend of one of the guys. “She led me to believe she could sing and dance,” Fall told me, “though I didn’t actually see that at the audition. But she jumped into lessons after that and was great. She has an amazing sense of humor.” Is Tori’s character a good singer? “She’s supposed to think she’s really good,” said Fall. Better to tantalize people.
Moving on to theater stars who really have it, the Tony nominees are a pretty stellar bunch, despite the glaring omissions. (Nicole Kidman practically showed her anus onstage to sell tickets, and that wasn’t good enough?) But the nominees named for Best Book of a Musical reveal the desperation that came into play in filling certain categories. The chosen literary gems include Marlene, whose dialogue ran on the order of “Miss Dietrich, Picasso’s on the phone and Capote’s at the door. Oh, what did you think of Hemingway?”; and It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues, which must have about one page of talk, including stuff like “Wow, it’s hot in here!” and “Let’s go to Chicago, shall we?”
Let’s go to the Innocent Theater Company, shall we, for a revival of that old Freudian chestnut The Bad Seed—a/k/a It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Cooze. The surprisingly thoughtful production has men in drag assuming most of the lead female roles, but playing it straight, in an effective wallow into hereditary menace bedecked with intriguing beige costumes (by Isabel Toledo) and sets (by Jack Flanagan and Ruben Toledo). Only cunty little Rhoda’s dress is jet black.
I recently met a cute cast member of the bad, seedy (and now closed) Broadway revue The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm, whose lesbian duet critics wrongly lumped in with its overall “vulgarity”—though some of the queer stuff didn’t quite come off for other reasons. For example, the ending had two men hugging, after which the ensemble mournfully sang “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” one of them wearing an AIDS ribbon. Well, the cute cast member had explained this to me, saying with endearing sweetness, “We all get infected.” I just can’t even comment on that one.
While we’re mourning, here’s a case of a tea room destroyed by Mussolini, I mean Giuliani: As of last year, the Jewel was a thriving adult theater—I hear—with gay porn films upstairs and men commingling downstairs, but now it’s yet another vision of Rudy-era destimulation. The lower area is closed off except for a couple of bathrooms, and on the upper level, they now show unannounced, un-gay, un-porn movies—like some detective flick featuring Suzy Amis and occasional bouts of hetero kissy-face. Generally, about a dozen confused male customers sit throughout the theater, stuck in movie hell no doubt because of some dated bar-rag listing. They
forlornly half-look at the screen as a monitor patrols the aisle to make sure no one even thinks of connecting. It’s a truly alienated scene—even more so than when there was anonymous sex there! Come on, Rudy. Don’t give me that “Elsa darling” crap! Just give me my goddamned Picasso!
Oh, one more sex-related bulletin: Monica Lewinsky went into Barney’s last week, sidled up to the François Nars makeup counter, and asked for a particular brand of blush. The name of it? Orgasm! You couldn’t even make this shit up.