With due apologies to Lord Denning, if in the wintertime New York’s art-and-culture scene is not the delight of everyone, it damn well ought to be. A brief roundup of things I’ve watched and done over the past couple of months follows.
I greatly enjoyed Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Lincoln Centre, which plays for a fortnight more. Why? It subverts Chekhov. (The script is replete with references to Cherry Trees, spinster sisters, and so forth.) There’s a hilarious actress playing a woman named Cassandra who makes many dire prophecies. And, more than that, it’s a play with heart. As someone with two parents born in the 1950s who’ve become accustomed to a great deal of change over the course of their lives, much as David Hyde Pierce’s wonderful protagonist does, it’s hard not to feel a profound sympathy for the characters and the stresses that life in the early 2010s brings with it. The entire cast is sort of lovely, but – Hyde Pierce during the play’s denouement aside – Sigourney Weaver steals the show, as the bitch who doesn’t mean to be (and with amazing legs that a 63 year old shouldn’t naturally be able to fit into jeans that are so tight).
There are enough people saying enough good things about The Heiress for me not to need to say a great deal more. I watched it in previews in October and loved it. I was bound to, really. Jessica Chastain may just be the most talented actress of her generation in Hollywood right now. (Sorry Amy, Natalie, Anne Hathaway, Keira Knightley.) Dan Stevens – although at times awkward and forced as an American, when you really just want him to say “My eyes have been opened” after bedding his wife, to his future father-in-law – seems plausible enough as a fortune-hunter (or is he?). (Aside from which, it doesn’t seem like the guy can do anything wrong. If he didn’t seem so likeable, I’d probably hate someone who’s that well-educated, good looking, and seems to be able to combine being an actor and judging the Booker Prize and being editor-at-large of The Junket. With no disrespect intended, his whole life seems like the best kind of junket.) And David Strathairn, whose performance I enjoyed in Lincoln, has a great deal of presence. If you haven’t seen it, and you can, you should – especially in New York. (One might aver that Henry James was the Candace Bushnell and Cecily von Ziegesar of his time. That would be cheeky, though.)
Tribes, which is apparently still playing at Barrow Street (also until 20 January), is not an easy play to watch. I might even call it disturbing. It says many things about the way we treat community and outsiders, even when they’re close to us, that are difficult, and about which many of us don’t have to think often. The set is sparse and moves from jolly to dark, with lighting and sound to match. I’m not sure I’ve seen a stage that literally follows the characters’ journeys from hearing to deaf, and from speaking to stuttering. Moving, soulful, thoughtful, and even a little painful, the play is not something to watch if you want something light. At the risk of spouting cliches, I firmly believe that the theatre ought to educate as well as to entertain. Tribes achieves the latter in spades.
Finally, I was expecting a great deal of Glengarry Glen Ross, which is also still going until the 20th. Blasphemous though this may seem to aficionados of the movie, the play feels a little, well, dated now. It speaks to the lust and greed of Reagan’s America rather than the financial devastation, weird fringe movements, and Occupy Wall Street-ness of Obama’s – much as perhaps Arthur Miller’s plays don’t really feel like they belong to this world any more. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it, though, because it really is all about Al Pacino all the time. Of the great film actors of the 1970s, I waver between Pacino and De Niro (and I’m greatly looking forward to the release of Stand Up Guys). Some days I like Pacino, most days I like De Niro, but every now and then I watch Scent of a Woman on just the right sort of rainy evening and wonder if De Niro or anyone else alive could twirl Gabrielle Anwar around a dance floor, when that age, with such finesse. I’ve never seen De Niro on stage. This winter, with his voice, his mannerisms, his gait, and his living personification of the American dream gone sour, Pacino seems to have owned the Schoenfeld.
Not a whole lot planned for coming weeks, with work likely to take over existence again, but I am hoping to see Guru of Chai (also at Barrow Street) and at least Airswimming at the Irish Repertory Theatre. More to come.
The joint Junot Diaz–Julie Otsuka book reading at the 92nd Street Y was great fun. I like Diaz’s work very much. His Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao captivated me, and the one excerpted story from This is How You Lose Her in The New Yorker (about which he spoke more, separately) was enjoyable, too, even if he did steal my 15-year-old trick of trying to be meaningful by writing in the second person. (As an aside, you know you’re getting old when “15-year-old trick” can refer either to your age when pulling the trick or the time that’s lapsed since you pulled it.) He read from a story called “Nilda”, also in This is How You Lose Her. It may be some time before I get to the book itself, but I was glad to make the book reading and get my books signed. Otsuka is an author with whose work I’d like to become more intimate, soon. Her voice is older than Diaz’s, from the excerpt that she read, so it might take me some years to understand it. I want to get out of my reading comfort-zone in 2013, though, and read books that force me to learn more about the world. Hers might do just that.
The line of the night clearly belonged to Mr Diaz, though. Other than talking about the importance of history as conversation, and the fact that his stories – in their focus on Dominicans, or Afro-Caribbean communities – discuss “profound erasure and conflict and trauma”, he answered several questions from the audience. Towards the end, one that made its way to the podium asked whether you could write the love story of a lifetime at age 21. Without skipping a beat, the Pulitzer Prize winner cracked up, smiled, and said “Fuck it, give it a shot”.
Finally, and much like The Heiress, it seems as though everyone has been to Event of a Thread at the Park Avenue Armory. I could try to tell you about my artistic interpretation of it all, but instead of finding some excuse to use the word “diaphanous”, I might as well leave that to The Economist, The New York Times, or point you to the (slightly out-of-date) website of the artist herself. (I don’t blame Ms Hamilton. Given a choice between unlimited swinging and updating a website, I know which I’d take.)
For me, the big thing was just sitting on a swing, and trying to get really high, and seeing the curtain go up and down the higher I went up, and then lying under the curtain and seeing other people do that, too. 2012 was the year that the Mayans said would see the end of the world, and in which we almost all fell over a fiscal cliff or something. So it was nice, for an hour or so, to sit on a swing, and pretend I was 15 or something again.
There may have been squealing. It was probably mine. I may go again.
In finishing (or starting?) …
2013 is a bit different. Preparing to leave your 20s and enter your 30s ought, I think, to be a time to see things anew and do whatever you’ll hate yourself for not doing for the rest of your life. So happy new year. In 2013, I hope you (yes both of you) and I all say fuck it,* and give it a shot – whatever “it” may be.
(*I’ve tried not to be profane here so far, but if Junot Diaz does it I think that’s ok …?)