Friday, June 14, 2013


Another part in our continuing series on Shit You Should Know.

It's an election year.

It's an important election. (Mayor, a majority of city council seats, and many other positions are open and competitive -- meaning the city politics could pretty drastically change).

It's really hard to get good information.

That's why you should know about:

  • What it is: A very easy to navigate web guide to find out who is running for what positions, and recent news about them. (They also operate a useful Twitter feed).
  • Why you should know about it: Because this election is big and complicated but it's also going to determine who is going to piss you off with bike lanes and massive development projects and etc. (By the way, if you want to know who on that list is pro-arts, keep an eye out for the League of Independent Theater endorsements).
  • Why you should know about it now
    • The election is coming up swiftly and really, the primaries will settle most of everything by September 10th so now is the perfect time to get involved.
    • If you do check out DecideNYC and are as happy with their quality local coverage as I am, contribute to their project like I did today. Quality local coverage is hard to sustain, as New York sees all too clearly, so support it where you can!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

REVIEW: 3 Kinds of Exile

Typically, I don't enjoy writing a negative review -- I try to find the positive in the production, or I don't write a review at all. I figure that usually a bad play -- if it made it far enough to be seen -- is either a good idea trying to climb out of poor execution (in which case I focus on engaging with the idea and how to better present it), or a bad idea that I don't engage with (in which case I don't feel like a bad review would contribute much.

I also don't write bad reviews because I try to approach reviewing with a semblance of humility. I have only just read Isaac's self reflection on the rush to make harsh judgment, and I worry about stepping over the line myself.

So why am I about to write bad words about John Guare's 3 Kinds of Exile, now playing at the Atlantic Theater Company? Because, as a fellow theater producer (albeit a much less successful one) I have honest questions about how this reached the stage on front of a paying public, in one of New York's premier theaters without anyone raising an eyebrow.

This Goes Beyond Bechdel
Suppose you and one of your friends get together and decide to write a staged biography about a striking actress you knew (Elzbieta Czyzewska). Would you really decide that the best way to present her life would be to have two men talk about her, occasionally imitating her, rarely quoting her, and instead rattling off a series of facts about her life in chronological order? (For 40 minutes?).

The theme of the biography is (so near as I can tell), that Elzbieta was given short shrift by directors and producers who constantly promised her big come-back roles, but never delivered. (Included in that number is a young playwright named John Guare, who seems fairly sad that he was forced to cut her from a play he wrote specifically for her).

And here she is, one more time, being presented to an audience without truly bringing her voice in the space. A few moments of imitation, but otherwise, she is quite literally an object, a portrait invoked at the beginning and end of a long story.

That's the content of the second of the three acts. (The first is a monologue by a man about himself, so there's not really much room for a woman there, apparently).

What about the third act? There are female actresses in there. They get two moments:

1) A moment where the lead character is pronounced to be attractive by two ladies, and they try to sleep with him.
2) A bride whose only line of dialogue, repeated, is "Fuck me."

Seriously. There's a female character who can only say "Fuck me." And yes, it's in context of a criticism of traditional marriage. But I really don't think that's enough! Not when it's basically a punchline in a long series of gags.

Somewhere, in a full 100 minute piece about exile in which there are female characters -- one of which is about a real-life female person -- there has to be more than three lines to encapsulate their experience, more than a few quick gags to capture their voice.

Am I the first person to ask this question? How did this play make it all the way to a major venue in New York today without someone along the way raising an eyebrow?

The Magical Other
The third act is basically the story about how a sexually repressed Polish exile finds his way to Buenos Aires, and a tempting Latino seduces him away from that rigidly structured world. This tempting Latino is presented as being magical -- hypnotic, satanic.

Guys, I'm not crazy here, right? Did nobody wikipedia this?

It's Kind Of Hard Out Here For an Artist (What?!)
So, that's already two big problems that seem to me that should have been huge liabilities before this play made it to the stage. There's another one that sticks out to me, which is that both the second and third acts are tragic stories of unrealized, victimized artists.

Don't get me wrong -- if you're a true master, you can make a good tortured artist story. Amadeus is probably a good example in that genre. I'm willing to let Sunday in the Park with George slide, mostly on the back of its music.

But for the most part, the staggering majority of "tortured artist" stories tend to be exercises in self-indulgence; here, the self-indulgence goes so far that John Guare, as an actor playing the role of John Guare in the play written by John Guare, refers in the third person to a character in the story who is John Guare. At which point a projection of John Guare is visible, as though we don't get that the person standing in front of us describing the story is the same John Guare.

Both protagonists in the second and third acts are presented as will-less victims, buffeted by their fate, misunderstood by their peers and family and lacking all agency in the world around them. Which is as negative an impression of artists as you could devise. And very little that is sympathetic is provided about them either. Instead, we are simply asked to connect to their suffering because it is suffering, and because artists are noble creatures that should not be in pain, I guess.

All of this, as well as the overly long span of time that the three pieces take up and the repetitive, over-explanation of the messages and morals in each of the pieces (replete with unending rhetorical questions), indicate to me that John Guare was basically allowed to do whatever. It has a very unedited feel; my play-going companion detected a distinct "undergraduate thesis" vibe. 

I don't know how it got here. I don't know how it edged out the thousands of equally competent playwrights and plays that are circulating out in the world. I'm not sure how the bizarre casting, the uneven acting styles, the offensive choices, etc. were allowed to stand in a venue with those kind of resources.

My god, what Taylor Mac or Aaron Landsman or Sarah Ruhl or Susan Lori-Parks or a thousand other people could have done.

I want to end my review by honoring the people who worked on this. Genuinely. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to trash a production, knowing the time and dedication that came from a talented group of performers and designers. I'm just baffled how this incredible wealth of resources came to be marshaled for this production.

(As required by law, here is a disclaimer that I got the tickets for free.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Julius Lester on Gossip

Monday, June 3, 2013

LOCAL2013: **ACTION ITEM** Support LITNY's Endorsed Candidates

The following is a press release from the League of Independent Theater, who are endorsing some key political players who are running for office -- all of whom have adopted our Performing Arts Platform.

We need your help.

If you want to reward these politicians for coming to the cultural tables, come out on Wednesday (June 5th) at 11:30 (FB event here). We want to show the cameras how big a force the independent performing arts and culture community is.


Fighting for the vibrant cultural sector of New York City means fighting for independent theater across all five boroughs. The League of Independent Theater’s mission is to support those artists and venues throughout the City, and to identify candidates in each of those communities to work on their behalf.
As the only 501(c)6  advocacy organization for the independent theater and performing arts population of New York City, the League of Independent Theater (which supports the interests of over 50,000 artists who vote regularly*) is proud to stand with and endorse Manhattan Borough President, Scott M. Stringer for Comptroller of The City of New York, Julie Menin for Manhattan Borough President, Jimmy Van Bramer for City Council, and other pro-Arts candidates including: Jenifer Rajkumar – District 1; Ben Kallos – District 5; Ken Biberaj – District 6; Melissa Mark-Viverito – District 8; Cliff Stanton – District 11 and Rory Lancman – District 24.
In the winter of 2009, an audience of over 300 independent theater artists and performing arts supporters attended a Community Board Congress forum on the perilous state of the small to midsized theater sector throughout the City where Borough President Scott M. Stringer challenged our sector to create a pro-arts platform. After years of organizational meetings, private discussions and coalition building, the League of Independent Theater unveiled this platform at our “Meet the Candidates” event on March 12, 2013 at The Players Club**. This comprehensive eight-plank platform will encourage, leverage and strengthen the independent theater sector of New York City.
Despite the many financial, logistical, and creative barriers, it is a widely documented and accepted truth that the independent theater community continues to power the City’s culture and contribute to the local economy. LIT’s goal is to seek advocates in government who understand the challenges that the independent theater community faces, and will partner on specific actions to ease those burdens. Because of Scott M. Stringer, Julie Menin, Jimmy Van BramerJenifer Rajkumar, Ben Kallos, Ken Biberaj, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Cliff Stanton,and Rory Lancman’s belief in us, we believe in them and are very proud to endorse and work to galvanize the independent performing arts section (50,000+ strong) to support these candidates in their upcoming races.
**Videos of this event can be viewed at
The following eight (8) points make up the League of Independent Theater’s performing arts platform.
1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database.
2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.
3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.
4. Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. All twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards unanimously ratified this proposal.
5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists.  In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.
6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.
7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.
8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off Broadway community.