‘A work of monumental passion and epic sensuality,” trumpets the press release for the Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. They had me at “A.” And if you’ve seen the steamy commercial for the show, you know that if the Iceman got a front row seat, he’d probably cometh.
At an epically sensual meet-and-greet for the cast last week, I alighted on co-star Carla Gugino, who played Marilyn Monroe in After the Fall, the Liz Taylor part in Suddenly Last Summer, and now the Sophia Loren role in this. (I won’t even mention Race to Witch Mountain.) “I’m following in some amazing footsteps,” Gugino told me. Not to mention some amazing bodices.
“These roles are very sexual,” she went on about the O’Neill romp. “It’s part of who we are as people. It’s not something I shy away from.” Nor does the play, which, she said, “explores all of these primal notions. After all, ‘Desire’ is in the title.” “So is ‘Under,’ ” I whinnied, annoyingly. “And ‘Elms’! Don’t forget the trees!” “Yes,” said Gugino, biting my bait. “There’s a lot underneath the elms—let’s put it that way.”
Leaning against the trunk with her is Pablo Schreiber, who plays the farmer’s son with a taste for land—and for lots of Gugino. (Doing this play instead of transferring to Broadway in his reasons to be pretty role, he told me, was “a no-brainer.”) Taller than a Sitka spruce, Schreiber is an intensely earnest type who confirmed my suspicion that this is a torrid trolley ride through lust and greed. “It’s written at a scale that some have termed operatic,” he asserted. “It’s massive—a behemoth of a play.” And the audience is strapped in for 100 intermissionless minutes without a condom.
Director Robert Falls left me with some lust talk of his own, deadpanning, “I can find no sex in . . . what’s that play across the street? Martha Stewart? Oh, I mean Mary Stuart! I was disappointed. And there’s no sex at all in Godot or Ionesco. To me, this is the sexy show of the season.” But there are some limits, of course. “I tried to get Brian Dennehy to show his ass,” said Falls, impishly, “but he declined.” Now that would be a behemoth of a show.
Half-clad girls permeate Rock of Ages, a jukebox musical for people who think Jersey Boys was too intellectually taxing. The show manages to turn ’80s hard rock into what’s basically an extended Happy Days episode on wine coolers and hair products. But its dopey winkiness is so relentless that by the end of it, while my mind had surely rotted, I was half-smiling and had almost forgotten Jersey Boys‘ “Sherry” in favor of this show’s “Oh, Sherry.” (Yes, a character is named Sherry, just so they can sing that famous song. If it was a country jukebox show, she’d surely be named Jolene!)
I sang “Oh, Toxie” at the opening-night party for the funny musical of The Toxic Avenger, but stopped short when a woman barreled up to me and prodded, “Shouldn’t you talk to Lloyd Kaufman from Troma Films, who did the Toxic Avenger movie?” “No,” I belched, remembering some ancient grudge against him. (I have Italian Alzheimer’s.) “I’m his wife,” she said, as I started twitching in embarrassment. “And I’m also the New York State Film Commissioner,” she added, as I nearly gagged on my green cupcake.
Who I did talk to—after hiding behind a barrel for a while—was Demond Green, who’s hilarious in a variety of campy supporting roles, both male and female. Green told me he was in the show when it played New Jersey to bravos. “But it’s a spoof of toxic waste in the Garden State,” I observed, brilliantly. “Everyone knows New Jersey smells like shit!” Green shot back.
Garden salads permeate Brunch! The Musical, a weird mix of syndicated-sitcomy antics and grim tunes about the traumas of being a server. But the cast is spirited, Act One is quite edible, and you gotta love it when Kevin Bacon orders turkey bacon.
A more substantive entrée, A Chorus Line, made for a terrible movie in 1985, but now it’s the subject of one of the best documentaries ever done about the theater, darlings. It’s Every Little Step, which chronicles both the creation of the original show and the casting of the revival, following actors competing for parts in which they’ll play actors competing for parts. It’s even more meta than Rock of Ages. But why is there no mention whatsoever of the pivotal Diana Morales character? God, I’m such a gay.
Speaking of people competing to be famous, I ran into David Hernandez, who was voted off American Idol last year after his past as a male strip club star emerged like a genital ricocheting out of a G-string. “It wasn’t the stripper thing,” Hernandez told me at Beige last week. “It was the gay thing. That’s Middle America for you. I feel like New York and L.A. are two separate countries.” Well, the gay thing came up again on the show when Adam Lambert‘s same-sex kiss photos caused weird tremors—as if a gay in showbiz is supposed to be such a shocking thing. When I noted that Lambert—who’s a friend of Hernandez’s “from the scene”—hasn’t been voted off the show because he’s gay, the singer knowingly replied, “Not yet.”
In the land of the straighties, actress Nancy Balbirer has written a tell-almost-all called Take Your Shirt Off and Cry: A Memoir of Near-Fame Experiences. A juicy section of the book tells about how a certain (unnamed) fiftysomething star of stage and screen once tried to woo Balbirer by teaching her to shoot a .357 Magnum. It didn’t work!
My weapon was popping through my pants when I went to see HBO’s Grey Gardens with the very dedicated Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange as the Beales, Jackie Kennedy’s black-sheep relatives who devolved into squalor, but kept their nutty showbiz dreams intact. This story has already been fodder for a documentary, a musical, another documentary with extra footage, a photobook, and a documentary about the musical, so it’s hard to even be objective about it anymore. I can only tell you that this one includes scenes where the Beales are shooting the documentary and then watching it, so it’s even more meta than Every Little Step. Also, unlike the musical, there’s no Jerry character, and in this version, the characters seem softer and more sympathetic—except for the fun scene where little Edie cozies up to Jackie O. and asks, “Is it true that Jack Kennedy gave you gonorrhea?”
With a documentarian’s gaze, publicist Peggy Siegal has written an awards-season diary for Avenue, dotting it with observations. The piece states that Madonna‘s then–boy toy, Jesus Luz, doesn’t speak a word of English. (Does that help in dating Madonna? I don’t know, I’m just asking.) Siegal also reports that when Mickey Rourke walked the red carpet at the Spirit awards, some female photogs asked him to remove his shades, and Rourke elegantly responded, “Show me your tits!” Adds Siegal: “This is exactly why he will never win an Oscar.”
But you’re much luckier, dear reader. This column of monumental passion and epic sensuality will now leave you with some parting gags of the highest rank. With due respect to my colleague Cindy Adams: If Mercedes Ruehl married Julie Benz, she’d be Mercedes Benz. If Freida Pinto married Nia Peeples, she’d be Freida Peeples. If Pamela Lee married designer Alvin Valley, she’d be Silicone Valley. And if Clay Aiken had married me, he wouldn’t have even come in second.