Saturday, July 8, 2017

Ad Hominem: Battles Over Broadway and the Role of Personal Identity in Criticism

 Max Gordon Moore and Adina Verson in Paula Vogel's Indecent. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Let’s start by accepting the premise that white men (a group which includes yours truly) have managed to make quite a hash of things over the last few centuries. One need only glance at today’s headlines to see the ways in which blithely privileged males have negatively affected our politics and culture. There’s been a strong, necessary, and long-past-due movement in the last few decades to remedy this state of affairs in the arts. However, a recent controversy in the world of theatre criticism has pointed to some concerning issues that arise when we apply this attitude to the question of whether and how the identities of critics and artists should affect the former’s responses to the latter. It stems from a series of statements on social media from playwright Paula Vogel, followed by “A Collective Call Against Critical Bias” on the theatre website HowlRound, in response to the early closings of Vogel’s Indecent and fellow playwright Lynn Nottage’s Sweat on Broadway.

Vogel and Nottage are two of the most prominent and respected playwrights in the United States at present, and yet they none of their works had ever made it to Broadway before, so it was disappointing when their respective plays announced that they would close early (although, in a surprising and virtually unprecedented development, Indecent subsequently extended its run at the last minute). In both cases, lukewarm reviews from The New York Times likely played at least some role in limiting their runs. Vogel took to Twitter to comment, “Brantley&Green, 2-0. Nottage&Vogel 0-2. Lynn, they help close us down,&gifted stra8 white guys run: ourplayswill last. B&G#footnotesinhistory.” Nottage added, “The patriarchy flexing their muscles to prove their power.” Vogel subsequently qualified her initial statements: “Btw I like well written pans of my plays (John Simon!) NYT was not a pan. Is there a manipulation of marketplace that dismisses women&POC?” and “I respect Ben Brantley. I served on a pulitzer jury w/him. He is not the enemy. hope to have more thoughtful dialogue. We need a better way.” She also took pains to emphasize that she was not disparaging Lucas Hnath or J.T. Rogers, the aforementioned “gifted [straight] white guys” whose A Doll’s House, Part 2 and Oslo continue to run on Broadway.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Neglected Gem #104: Girl with Green Eyes (1964)

Rita Tushingham and Peter Finch in The Girl with the Green Eyes

Considering how prolific the Irish writer Edna O’Brien is – and how inherently dramatic her books are – it’s surprising that so few of them have been made into movies. (She’s also the author of a marvelous play, Virginia, neglected since its original productions at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario with Maggie Smith in 1980 – which I saw and have never forgotten – and the New York premiere with Kate Nelligan in 1985.) There are TV movies of her breakthrough novel The Country Girls and Wild Decembers (she wrote the teleplays for both), but only twice has her work reached the big screen: in 1964, when she adapted the middle book in the Country Girls trilogy, The Lonely Girl, as Girl with Green Eyes, and in 1972, when she turned Zee and Company into X, Y and Zee, and which starred Elizabeth Taylor in one of her best performances, opposite Michael Caine and Susannah York. Neither film is remembered today.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Inventory Management, Vol. I.

A scene from Yoko Taro’s Nier: Automata.

"Inventory Management" is the period of rest and thoughtfulness that occurs during breaks in the action, in which we organize and clear out all the unnecessary clutter we've accumulated during our adventures. This column, like its sister column Critic's Notes & Frames, embraces this spirit of enjoyable tidying up by acting as a receptacle for all the reviews, thoughts, and musings about games and gaming culture that wouldn't fit anywhere else. -- Justin Cummings
I jumped into director Yoko Taro’s Nier: Automata without ever having played the original 2010 title Nier. I didn’t think I’d have any trouble, given the seemingly hyperbolic reaction the game had received by that point, with critics and fans often citing it as their favourite game of the year so far. I raised an single eyebrow at this – I mean, Breath of the Wild came out this year – but it was enough to warrant giving it a shot, anyway.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

No East or West in Dreams: Yoko Ono, Buddhism and the Avant-Garde

Fly (1971) was Yoko Ono's second album.

Welcome to the world of transformation and transcendental art. The art in multiple media produced by the 1960’s neo-dadaist movement known as Fluxus in general, and the art of Yoko Ono in particular, in addition to being challenging and thought-provoking, is also an exceptionally suitable vehicle for the subtle transmission of sophisticated Buddhist principles which can be found in both Zen and Dzogchen teachings. In many cases the artworks themselves are embodied meanings, crystallized manifestations of certain Buddhist perspectives on the interactive nature of reality.

Inspired profoundly by the brilliant breakthroughs of two twentieth-century conceptual masters, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage, the art produced by Ono and this mere decade-long assembly of experimental mixed media artists and musicians is also an ideal pivot with which to appreciate the more pronounced (and more revealing) affinity which has long existed between Buddhist philosophy (especially as transmitted to the west by D.T. Suzuki in the post-war period) and the west’s most adventurous avant-garde (especially that practiced by visionary artists and musicians such as Duchamp, Maciunas, Cage, and the Fluxus group). And Yoko Ono. Perhaps especially Yoko Ono.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Off the Shelf: John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps (2000)

Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins in Ginger Snaps

John Fawcett's horror comedy Ginger Snaps has the good sense not to take itself too seriously. This low-budget Canadian feature, with a clever screenplay by Karen Walton, is essentially a prankish menstrual joke much like Brian De Palma's Carrie. Fifteen-year-old Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins) and her sixteen-year-old sister, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), are both outcasts who are preoccupied by death. Their self-styled Goth lifestyle is so gloomy that the only joy they experience is collaborating on a school project where they photograph a number of mock-suicide attempts. Brigitte and Ginger are not only sisters; they're spiritual twins who loathe their placid suburban environment. Yet they are both so tied to their deep blue forebodings that neither has had her period yet. They take refuge in life's shadows as a way of hiding from the light of their own femininity. The night Ginger finally gets "the curse" she also has the misfortune of being bitten by a werewolf. This horrific attack slowly transforms her into a lycanthrope herself. The joke, of course, is that puberty has not only turned her into a hot babe who draws all this attention from the guys; it's also transformed her into a voracious beast who is out for blood. "I've got this ache," she tells Brigitte, "and I thought it was for sex, but it's to tear everything to pieces." With the help of Sam (Kris Lemche), a local pot dealer and amateur botanist, Brigitte tries to bring her demon sister back from the brink.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Williamstown Theatre Season Openers: The Model American and The Roommate

Hiram Delgado and Han Jonghoon in The Model American at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. (Photo: Daniel Rader)

Mandy Greenfield’s tenure as artistic director at the Williamstown Theatre Festival has been marked by a turn away from revivals of classic American (and European) plays to a focus on new work: this year, like last, Greenfield has reserved only one slot for an established play, and it’s Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House, from 2004. (Last season it was Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo.) The attention to up-and-coming playwrights is theoretically exciting, but the choices for season openers in both spaces, the mainstage and the intimate Nikos Stage, are questionable, to say the least.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Je Suis Zombie: On the Third Season of iZombie

David Anders, Rose McIver, and Jason Dohring in iZombie.

 This piece contains spoilers for the third season of The CW's iZombie.

This past Tuesday, the third season of The CW's iZombie concluded with a world-shaking bang. Though the 13-episode season of Rob Thomas' zombie crime procedural also came with a significant drop in its ratings (continuing the steady decline from the heights of its freshman season), the series showed up for its third outing with all guns blazing and held that energy all the way through. If you tuned in you were treated to a more ambitious story that, while never straying from the wit and charm of its first two seasons, carefully and confidently expanded the show's themes, more than earning the right to shift the ground beneath its feet.