Friday, December 9, 2016

Thoughts On Hairspray.

We gave up our cable TV a couple weeks ago. So far, it's going well. I miss NY1, but not too much -- I get most of my local news lately from neighborhood blogs I read every day.

I did feel pretty left out Thursday morning, though, reading everyone's responses on Facebook to the NBC live broadcast of Hairspray. It's just an ego thing, but I hate being late to these of-the-moment conversations, especially about art. It was available last night to stream online, so C and I watched it, and now I'll add my two cents to the day-old conversation, because you know I have to have an opinion on everything.

As everyone is saying, this is the best one yet. There was no where to go but up after that Sound of Music, but C and I both loved Christopher Walken's performance in Peter Pan, was that two years ago? The Wiz? I don't know, that show doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but I will admit to a chip on my shoulder about adaptations of The Wizard of Oz in general.

So, Hairspray. I know you're not supposed to lead with the negative criticism, but there were a couple technical things that I'm sure colored my feelings about the production. One, I know they have to have commercials, but all those interstitial bits with Darren Criss were total mood-killers. Still, if that's what it takes to get live musical theater on TV, then I'll go along with it.

But the sound? I hesitate to make this criticism because I know I'm old and losing my hearing, and to be honest I have this problem almost always when I see musical theater that has electric bass and drums, I just can't hear the vocals very well and miss most of the lyrics in big loud songs. But C was having the same problem, so I wonder if it was a sound mix issue. The vocals seemed often completely buried, until Jennifer Hudson sang. But, on the other hand, not a single review I read the next day mentioned it, so maybe I'm crazy.

But Jennifer Hudson. C and I were sitting there grousing a bit during one of those interminable breaks (you can't fast-forward when you stream from NBC), and then she started singing I Know Where I've Been and our attention locked onto the screen. Good god almighty, that's how you deliver an 11 o'clock number. I forgot every negative thought I had had up to that point and to the end of the show I was completely hooked, completely sold. By the time they got to You Can't Stop the Beat, I was nearly in tears from the exuberance, that choreography, the absolute simple rightness of the message.

Things I loved:

1) The dancing. The show is about dancing, and this production delivered. One of my greatest pleasures in life is watching Broadway chorus kids do their thing. I'm in awe every time.

2) Kristin Chenoweth: she is insane, right? I don't mean insanely talented (which of course she is) but like just insane.

3) I loved the set, too, with all the tributes to John Waters' Baltimore.

4) And Harvey Fierstein is an absolute hero of our time. We should wake up every day and say, "Thank you, Harvey Fierstein."

The show kind of works no matter where you come to it from, but to a John Waters fan it's remarkable how very different the musical is from the original film yet retains in such pure form what's great about it. If Waters reveled in all that trash ("The rats on the street all dance round my feet") to be provocative, it was to provoke people into realizing that there's beauty there, and love, and innocence, and strength, and humor, and that the real trash is in the hearts of mean, narrow-minded, prejudiced people.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Better World Is Still Possible.

So many people I love are grief-stricken, not sleeping, disoriented, afraid, crying a lot. It feels almost unbearable.

I've been trying to recall how long it was before the 2001 terrorist attacks came to be known as "9/11." Because I haven't know what to call what happened on Tuesday. For now, I'll just call it "Tuesday." Tuesday shares with 9/11 a sudden sense of immediate danger, uncertainty, a reminder that we are targets, that we are not safe. Within the space of a few minutes, the world changed irrevocably and we are traumatized.

It occurs to me that maybe Tuesday was such a blow because we had grown to have unreasonable expectations. Things were going so well. After electing Obama 8 years ago and having in the White House someone who resembled us, someone who imagined a better world like the better world we imagined, who, though he couldn't make everything better in 8 years, at least understood the questions, expressed easy sympathy with our struggles, we thought the world was changing faster than it actually was. Working for a more just world turned into expecting a more just world in our lifetimes. How selfish we were.

I wonder if the only way out of this awful sadness it to recommit to the work of making a better world, not because it's possible to make things better for us, but because a better world is possible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Who Are We Fighting?

I'm trying to avoid war metaphors this morning. And failing.

How is this not the same battle I've been fighting ever since kindergarten when someone called me a girl? Or 5th grade when a bunch of boys called me a queer because I liked art class? I barely remember a time before it was me against some bully, some asshole, some idiot, until I got older and learned that it was actually me and a bunch of similarly marginalized and infinitely more interesting and usually kinder people against a whole raft of assholes and their institutions built to keep us out.

I didn't ask to be left out, but, if I had been, it's the tribe I would have chosen. Life was always more creative, more loving, more loaded with possibility, at the margins. I was not uncomfortable as a dissident.

But, in the last several years, big changes began to roll through, practically unannounced. Queer lives became more visible, less threatened, more normal. I got married, and my conservative Southern in-laws cried and danced at my wedding. Hope was palpable. I was not without hope before, but it was always distant and abstract. So though I know that all these struggles are not identical or even always aligned, the easing of persecution of queer people ran, to my eyes, parallel to the easing of persecution of other minorities, and it began, not even really consciously, to seem possible to be fully who I am and also welcome and safe in much of the larger world.

It began to seem possible.

All the solemn testimony this morning that it's time to come together, "reach across the aisle," recognize our common humanity, strikes me as willfully obtuse. This election was about a large segment (a little less than half) of the American population telling us explicitly that they do not want to come together. Some of them I'm sure would bristle at that characterization and insist that everyone is welcome in their new world order, and that may be true, but only in their bullshit "love the sinner" sense. They have set the terms under which we are welcome, and those terms are unacceptable.

This morning I feel paralyzed. This rage against a bigoted, ignorant majority feels like putting on my favorite sweater, but what's different from before is that I don't know exactly who the enemy is. It's not just the 5th grade boys anymore, if it ever was. When I look at poll data that shows significant percentages of every demographic group (men, women, people at all education levels, minorities of all kinds, all age groups) supporting a racist woman-hating demagogue for president, I realize the enemy could be almost anyone. Maybe that's the first task, to find out who they are.

In the meantime, all 3 branches of the federal government will very soon be controlled by the party that created and either sincerely or cynically (does it matter which?) campaigned for this authoritarian bigot who wants to burn the house down. So I won't be reaching across the aisle. I'll be doing what I can to offer love and comfort to my tribe. And I'll be watching my back.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Mom raised me to know that we were the kind of people who read the newspaper every day. Or, I should say, we were not the kind of people who did not read the newspaper every day.

I was going to say that lately I've been thinking of Mom every day -- meaning, because of the election, etc. -- but I was already thinking of her every day, so... What is new is that I've been craving her take on what Barbara Kingsolver called "this misogynistic horror show."

I miss her company, our constant, wide-ranging, and now unfinished, conversation.

Just out of high school, Mom was working as a secretary when she and my dad got married. She stayed home for the dozen or so years when her kids were small (I guess you could say she chose to "not work," if by not working you mean running the whole damn show) and got a job again as soon as my sister started school. There were many brilliant, talented, dynamic women in my life as a kid, but my mother was an up-close every day example of why women should be in charge. She was and is my touchstone for almost every question I've faced. We didn't always agree, but I always knew she was wiser than I was.

Her spirit is especially present these days as we negotiate this minefield of woman-hating. Some moments I feel deeply depressed that we still have to live with this bullshit. Other moments I feel motivated that it has been so starkly revealed what work there is still to do. You have to drive the cockroaches out of the wall so you can kill them. But always I thank the Fates for the lessons my mother taught me about women.

I don't want to say that it feels unfair, because what does fairness have to do with these things?, but it's very hard for me to accept the fact that Mom died just short of being able to vote in this election. My mother, who married at 18 and never went to college but taught me nearly everything important that I know, who taught me how sexism works and why it's bad, what feminism is and why it's essential, and who instilled in me a reverence for the act of voting.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


This place sounds great, and I can't wait to try it.

When we were in Denmark 2 years ago for the opening of LIZZIE at Fredericia Teater, we (the writers and director) were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime meal at Ti Trin Ned. Chef Mette Gassner personally served us dinner. It was unexpected and unforgettable.

We also had a couple of more traditional Scandanavian meals, one I particularly enjoyed was at a lunch place on the harbor, nice but not fancy) where we ate the traditional lunch of dark bread with various cured or smoked or otherwise preserved meats and fish, and pickled vegetables. Delicious. I love that kind of meal. It reminds me of dinners at Grandma Lenore's apartment where, if she prepared a meal at all, she might open a can of smoked oysters or sardines, a jar of cheese spread, some dense rye bread or crackers, pickles.

But my inner Andy Rooney perked up when I read this:
Dinner menu will have just 15 dishes, each of which will cost no more than $16. They won’t be full entree-sized, but they won’t be super small either. People should expect to order between three and five of them, depending on how hungry they are.
I'm not such a fan of the "small plates" thing. One, you have no idea what small means. And two, it's great if everyone you're dining with is as adventurous as you, wants to have a communal experience, and likes ordering a bunch of stuff, especially the weird thing on the menu "just to try it." But if you're not with that group, it means you either have to figure out how to share some things with some people, or not, or default to the choices of the pickiest eater in the group.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


With all these licensed productions of LIZZIE all over the place lately, we're reading a flurry of reviews. Mostly really good, but as always at times like this I end up in a (somewhat tedious to me, at this point) conversation with myself about the function or utility of reviews, the relationship of critics to artists, etc., blah blah blah.

In the middle of this stew of intellectual inquiry and artist's insecurity plops this piece in this week's New Yorker.

I was excited when I saw the subhead, to read something by a gay man about A Life, a moving and thought-provoking new play running right now at Playwrights Horizons, which C and I saw last weekend and enjoyed quite a bit, and I like Als's thoughtful take on it. I haven't seen Duat, or the Front Page.

That last paragraph though. Yikes. I can understand having a strong negative reaction to a piece of art. I have them all the time. Just last week, in fact. I get how it can feel personally offensive to sit through something you think is awful. You feel taken. But still.

Artists complaining about critics is complicated if not just tiresome, but I will say this: if you're going to so fiercely attack someone's work, I think you should support your argument with an example or two.

Friday, October 28, 2016


I was in a funk for several days this past week, and because I've lived with this idea of myself as "sensitive" and "moody" ever since I can remember -- does anyone not have a half dozen go-to adjectives their parents assigned them practically at birth and that have stuck for all time? -- I didn't for most of my life think of these dark spells as anything I had much control over or particularly wish to know more about or even look at closely until I discovered Buddhist meditation in my early forties and realized that with a great deal of self-discipline (to be honest, more self-discipline that I can usually muster for very long at a time) one actually can get on more familiar terms with these states of mind. Inhale, exhale.

I was in a funk for several days this past week. I'm shaking it off now, but not completely. It was triggered by a dismissive review of a production of one of my shows, and around the same time a fundraising campaign for a new project got off to a very slow start, and then I caught a cold which has held on for almost 3 weeks now. I'm not sleeping well, and that makes it all worse. Or seem worse, which is maybe the same thing.

Even though periods of being stressed out, angry, sad, irritable, are not unusual for me, the last year or so has been tough. I've been increasingly anxious since my mom died. Aside from the grief, I can't stop thinking about how time is limited. Mom was less than 20 years older than I am now. The show of mine which only now is seeing some wide success, making a mark outside my tiny artistic neighborhood, bringing in a small amount of revenue (small), is work that I began 26 years ago.

There are so many stories I want to tell, so many shows I want to write. No longer can I just sort of casually believe that I will get to them all. Clearly, I won't. It's not new for me to fret over what to do now, what to do next, how to best spend my time, which project has the best chance of coming to fruition, but now, when I decide, "I'm going to work on this project now," I'm not just postponing the others. I am coming to terms (or not) with the fact that I may not have time for them.

Stacks of books in my apartment represent the stories I have some serious interest in turning into theater. Big creative projects, for me, always start with a lot of reading.

There's the Scarlet Letter musical that we've already written, and now we're trying to get it on a stage.

The other thing I'm actively working at now I usually call my Horatio Alger project. It's a mashup of Horatio Alger's biography, an adaptation of his most famous novel, Ragged Dick, and my own high school diary. I've written one and a half songs and some rough pages of monologue.

Other projects in the cooker (my brain) are a musical adaption of the life of Grant Wood. I call it "Wood."

"Syphilis, the Musical."

Something about the Gold Rush.

And a musical based on some aspect of the Lewis and Clark expedition.