Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vestal, Cracked Ice, & Other Details

First: "Swine Flu Spreading" is the leading headline on the newspaper that the man next to me is reading, coming home from a reading/signing by Vestal McIntyre at McNally Jackson books, on Prince Street--one of the world's great writers, at one of the city's great indie book stores. The audience is mostly friends, other writers, gay guys from around, a certain kind of community that feels right, even a regular maple syrup customer that I introduce myself to, officially, even though I've known him (in a certain limited context) for the last few years. He recognizes me, but doesn't know from where, and I explain. Vestal is fabulous; he is disarming and casual, and also willing to go there with it. The room laughs, cheers, quiets, listens. Everyone lines up for his signature. I get Kip to take a picture of us together. The book is great--what I've read of it on the train ride home, only a few pages. I'm going to take this one slowly, carrying it around a while, reminding me of itself in my bag, on my bedside, in my brain.

Then: The show is going well--more than well, great--big houses, small houses, it doesn't really feel any different. The circus plays this way--a few thousand people at some parks, then 25 people at others. It doesn't change your performance, but it does change them. More is better only because they feel more together, they function as a singular unit more cohesively. Smaller audiences are usually more shy, less fluttery, somewhat serious. This is part of the fun, actually. You don't really see people in Prospect Park, or Tompkins Square. But East New York, or Marcus Garvey, when you can really hear their individual squeals and squawks--that's pretty fucking fantastic.

A couple of reviews have been posted--only one of them what you might call a "rave." The first was so utterly off the mark, and so (I hope) unconsciously homophobic and classist that it made me think that perhaps the reviewer really enjoyed the show, despite himself, but in the end, felt outside of it, like he did not belong, and that colored everything. Perhaps understandibly. The next reviewer that came seemed to simply enjoy the show a lot more, really got what we're trying to do up there, but still said it lacked a something. I'm interested in reviews only in that they say a lot about the reviewer. And, also, how they can--if you do it right--let them become a point of dialogue between yourself and the theater you've created. You get to think about things differently, and ask yourself questions, think about images, essentially hear the show differently.

Next idea: There was a small item in the New Yorker about a woman who called the police because, she said, someone had broken into her house and vomited on her stove. The police reported that it was kitchen grease. I'm stealing this idea for my new novel--but turning it around slightly, like writers always do. I've been feeling so grateful lately, I'm trying to funnel that into the work--hoping that it infects the pages in some virulent way that it actually brushes off onto the readers fingers. I think about these kinds of things when I write--the physical nature of writing is so ephemeral, the nature of "having readers" is so obtuse, so outside of you, that I try to imagine a more direct link.

Finally: This whole Swine Flu thing feeling so strangely silly to me, the hyperspeed with which the news latched onto it, the hysteria--and yet people are dying. Aren't they? And reading my friend's book, seeing how he's poured himself out, more grown up than his first book of stories, but still so totally him. And being reminded, in such a fantastic way, how good theater feels, being a part of something hilarious, campy, draggy, fun, and loose.

I want all this to circle back around, be more cohesive. All these ideas feel like they have something to do with each other--performing, Swine Flu, vomit, audiences, books and readers. I don't know exactly what it is, but something is saying to me It doesn't have to be so difficult.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cracked Ice at PS122

I'm seen, briefly, in this brilliant new play by the infamous, adored, and heroic Jennifer Miller. Be there, or be there.

The world premiere of:


A new play by Jennifer Miller
with additional text by Deb Margolin

In this glittering theatrical extravaganza, the infamous juggling duo, The Liberty Sisters, have been fleeced by an evil ponzi schemer. Sybil and Statua Liberty embark on a mad-cap tour of revenge...but they aren't the only ones after the greedy crook. Mistaken identities, missed opportunities, star crossed lovers and variety hall numbers all combine to bring East Village high camp back home. It's tragedy, it's farce, it's mystery, it's mayhem...it's "CRACKED ICE or JEWELS OF THE FORBIDDEN SKATES!!"

April 25-May 10
Performance Space 122 -- First Avenue and 9th Street, NYC

Wed-Sun at 8pm
With additional late show, Sat, May 9 at 11pm.

Special performance to benefit Circus AMOK! on Sunday, May 3 at 8pm.

Starring: Jennifer Miller, Ashley Brockington, Tanya Gagne, Lee Houck, Sally May, Adrienne Truscott, Carlton Ward, and Rae C. Wright. Music & Lyrics by Kenny Mellman. Design by Jonathan Berger. Set Paintings by Mila Geisler. Choreography by Faye Driscoll. With additional text for Bernie Madoff by Deb Margolin. Special surprise guest artists each night, including Scott Heron, Jennifer Monson, Novice Theory, Jenny Romaine, Cathy Weis and many more!

Use code "FF12" to buy single tickets for only $12
Use code "FF241" to buy two or more tickets for only $10 each!!!
(2 for $20, 5 for $50, and so on.)

Benefit performance tickets are ONLY AVAILABLE at the AMOK website. Tickets are $50, $75 or $100 and include a post-show reception with the cast and creative team, as well as exclusive AMOK schwag!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Baser Drives

From Jon Raymond's story "Young Bodies," in his new collection "Livability:"
"They remained side by side. Bryan's body was as still as a statue. Kendra was too humiliated to close her eyes. What kind of person refused a blowjob? What kind of superior asshole did he think he was? She had asked nothing from him. She only wanted to know he was human. She wanted to know that he had a dick, and baser drives, like everyone else. The last thing she wanted was his pity, but that seemed to be what she'd gotten. She never should have told him her father drove a cab."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to Be a Good Customer: Lessons from a Syrup Slinger, Vol. 2

"How to Be a Good Customer: Lessons Learned from a Syrup Slinger" is a blog series that emerged from my years of experience selling maple syrup at the Union Square Greenmarket. The mission of this sporadic, multi-part series is to teach the citizens of New York how to be polite, intelligent, interested consumers, without acting like total douches.

Lesson 2: How Should I Know? or WTF are You Talking About?

I guess I have high standards. I like it when you ask questions; I want you to know the answers. I want you to understand the differences between one syrup and the next. I want you to understand how the syrup is made. I want you to know about why buying from us--or another farmer--is important. I want you to know about the amazing things that Mother Nature does so that you can enjoy your pancakes. But please, think about what you are asking. Here are some actual questions asked by my customers:

--"Why are there different sized bottles?"
--"Can I buy a bigger size?"
--"What if I want to buy four?"
--"How will I know if I like it?"
--"What if my sister doesn't like it?"
--"Will this fit in my refrigerator?"
--"Can I take this to my country house?"
--"How much do I need for my recipe?"
--"Is this cheese?"
--"Do you put eggs in this?"
--In January, 18 degrees: "Are you cold?"
--In April, complete downpour: "Why is everything wet?"
--In August, 92 degrees: "Are you hot?"
--"How much for a few pieces of soap?"
--"How much are the roasting chickens?"
--"You don't have any roasting chickens at all?"
--"How am I supposed to get it out of this jar?"
--"Won't I need a funnel to get it out of this jar?"
--"Why do I like this better?"

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Waiting for Godot

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see the Roundabout Theatre's production of "Waiting for Godot," starring, "in order of speaking," as the notes go, Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin, John Goodman and John Glover. Granted, it was only their third preview performance--not a lot of time to sink into the roles, to really explore the immense depth (and difficulty) that Beckett has to offer. So I'm not sure if my feelings about the show are really dictated by the newness of the performances, or if what I kept thinking was actually the case: That the play is written and structured in such a way that it will never again be new.

Now, I realize that the play is one of the great works of the century, and that people will think I am crazy--okay, maybe not everyone--for thinking this, but, it has some really clunky spots that actors and directors never seem to know what to do with. I was in the show once, as Vladimir, and aside from how much of the script I remembered even more than ten years later, I kept noticing that the awkward sections that we dealt with way back then are the same ones that Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin struggled to make right. I can't help but think that no one knows how to fix this.

I'm not sure if it's Beckett's estate keeping anyone from fucking with the material in a larger way, or if people are so enamored with it, with the play's posture and "meaningfulness" throughout the last fifty or so years, that it's impossible for it to look different. Yes, the stage directions are very clear, yes the set is spelled out, but I've never seen the play when it didn't feel like the same old show. The reinterpretations never really escape the text, whether the actors are amazing, Tony Award-winners or high school students. Even with the superb performances and beautiful set and lovely lighting, the Roundabout's production ends up looks like a museum piece. I can't help but thinking...yes, and?

This is not because of the actors. They are all fantastic. Nathan Lane, as Estragon, is so relaxed on stage, and the director allows him some of the freewheeling silliness that makes him so charming and hilarious--hamming it up every now and then. Bill Irwin, whom I fell even more in love with after seeing him in the revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," manages to slip in some surprising clowny bits, and uses his physical comedy experiece beautifully. He also manages to somehow become as thin and slight as the tree, periodically appearing like nothing more than a vertical line stuck into the dirt. John Goodman plays Pozzo lovingly, sort of helplessly, and it makes the horrendous nature of it all the more disturbing. Finally, John Glover is one of the most crushing, sad, insanely-good Lucky's I have ever seen. He is extraordinary.

There was a big fluff-up before the show started--some older ladies seemed to think that the seats were just, you know, for whomever wanted them. "I think we'll move down here," one of them said. The party arrived whose tickets matched those seats and the usher came to resolve the situation. "No, no," the older lady said, "We have to sit on the end because we have to leave immediately following the performance." "This man is so tall," the rest of them were saying too loudly of the man in front of them. Two of them produced thick chunks of foam from their enormous bags, which they sat on in order to lift them a bit higher. Naturally, none of us behind them now could see--and the good usher handled them more patiently than the rest of us wanted to. Most people gave a standing ovation, which doesn't mean anything these days in Broadway houses--people pay $125 to see something they want the Standing O to finish the experience for them, they need to resolve the narrative. When the house lights came back on, the one lady, who had been successfully moved to the aisle, said to her friend: "Well, what do you think happens to them now?"

Thursday, April 02, 2009


--Seems that Prague has turned into Greece. A few nights in Athens, a few nights in Santorini. We're forgoing Mykonos, because we'd like to be in a single place for a bit longer. No, I don't really do beaches, but who knows? A person can change, right? (Not really.) Very excited. Mid-may.

--Yesterday I began reading the new novel, "Cutting for Stone," by Abraham Verghese.

--Every writer should read Lorrie Moore's story "How to Become a Writer." You don't even need to buy the book. Look, it's right here. Brilliant from the first line: "First, try to be something, anything, else." But, perhaps my favorite image: "Later on in life you will learn that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written and therefore must half-believe anything and everything that is said of them."

--I decided to go back and read everything Lorrie Moore has ever written. After the Verghese novel.

--"Golden Girls" is the best show on TV. The writing is insanely good, and quick, and smart. Those four ladies make the rest just look like actors who work. The Golden Girls changed my life, I'm sure of it. My brother and I spent Saturday nites with my grandparents -- or was it Fridays? -- and we watched "Golden Girls," which came on before "Empty Nest." I LOVED it then, and also now. When I die, play episodes at the funeral.

--If you see me, ask me to tell you the joke about the doctor who farts. It's too long to type.