I heart Hathaway

I’ve never understood the vitriol directed at Anne Hathaway. I guess she said a few dippy things that rubbed people the wrong way. Well, guess what? You were a dope when you were in your 20’s, too. You just weren’t famous enough for everyone to know it. As far as I can tell, she a dedicated actor who just wants to turn in the best performance she can.

I saw her at The Public Theater in her one-woman show, Grounded by George Brant, in the tiny, 275-seat, Anspacher Theater. It’s about a fighter pilot who loves flying and loves the Air Force, but suddenly finds herself grounded because of a pregnancy. She’s relegated to drone operations—an inferior position for a pilot—and it drives her to madness.

It’s directed by Julie Taymor, who knows a thing or two about tasty visuals, staging and sound design. The play opens in a dark house. The stage is wall-to-wall ripples of sand. A beam of light shoots down on center stage. Hathaway stands beneath it in a flight suit and helmet. A thin stream of stand pours down. The sand particles bouncing off her helmet are an effective opening.

grounded1The visceral thrill of flying sorties gives way to a move to Las Vegas and long, tedious drives to her desert base where she spends 12-hour shifts staring at feeds from a drone.

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The tedium is only interrupted when she presses a button to rain down death from above. She slowly becomes detached from her husband, daughter, fellow crewmen and reality.

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The play climaxes when she finally locates a high-ranking insurgent and, after following him for months, drops a bomb. She watches through the hyper-telescopic drone camera as a child runs out of a house to embrace him and it reminds her of her own daughter. It’s an effective, albeit, contrived conceit. Hathatway immersed herself so deeply in the performance that at the curtain call on the night I saw her, she was visibly shaken and choking back tears. She came out for a second round of applause and was still weeping.

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Hathaway is on the board at The Public. In an effort to generate revenue, she’s agreed to hold post-show meet-and-greets on selected dates. You can pay $1,000 to meet her, or, for $1,500, you can sit in prime seats for the show and afterwards have a three-course dinner with her and George Brandt, the playwright.

Considering the condition she was in at curtain call, I can’t imagine dinner being a barrel of laughs, but I’ll bet you’d remember it.


I walked over to the Sean Kelly Gallery on my lunch hour to see Cyclicscape, ten new aluminum and stainless steel sculptures by contemporary artist Mariko Mori.

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They’re white, smooth loops without a beginning or end. They have a nice flow to them.

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The galley was empty and seeing them in a quiet, white space gave them gravitas. I’m glad nobody was around. A crowd sure can ruin a meditative moment.

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There’s always some art-speak mumbo-jumbo in the press release. (Right, Ross?) This time, it’s something about the universe’s never-ending renewal of invisible energy that transcends physical matter. Oh, brother. Can I just say I liked them for no particular reason?

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They reminded me of those squiggle pins that Paloma Piasso designed for Tiffany’s.

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Another book I helped to publish

Long-time readers know that I’m a book philistine. I refuse to use e-readers, I collect Modern First Editions and, for a brief time, was a bottom-rung rare book dealer. But my book bona fides were cemented when I partnered with Jim, one of my best buds and the proprietor of synesthesia press in Los Angeles, to publish a chapbook for Bruce Springsteen and Nick Hornby.

The Cliff’s Notes version is that Hornby gave us permission to reprint his essay on Thunder Road and Springsteen gave us permission to reprint the lyrics on a broadside. The stipulation was that the labor, materials and proceeds had to be donated to charity. We raised a little over $16,000 for Hornby’s cause in London. Here’s what happened in greater detail. It was an epic, eight-year struggle. A story of failure and second chances. Of lost friendship and redemption. It’s the best post I’ve ever written or ever will write.

Jim and I have come up with another chapbook. [Jim, mostly, if I’m being fair and honest.] This one is written by Tosh Berman, the son of Wallace Berman. Wallace Berman was an American artist who is considered the forefather of assemblage art and was an integral figure in the 1960’s California art scene.

Wallace is one of the faces in the crowd on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. He’s right next to Tony Curtis. Tosh was 12-years old at that time and this story is his remembrance of when Brian Epstein reached out to his father to secure permission to use his image.

“Around March of 1967, my father received a large envelope that was addressed from London.”

So begins Tosh’s short narrative, June 1, 2014. The hand-sewn chapbook is letterpress printed using both moveable type and photopolymer plates. There are three tipped-in color illustrations.

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Four variant color covers were used; Steel Blue, Factory Green, Kraft Speckletone and Safety Orange. The print run is 300 copies.

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Each copy is signed by Tosh.

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You can order a copy of June 1, 2014 from the synesthesia press eBay store for $19.95 plus shipping. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, the book is available at Alias Books East. There’s more stuff to come off the press so keep your eye out. Here’s part of Jim’s mission statement:

“As a bookseller, I generally specialize in good used books of a subversive nature. In other words, anything by or about Beatniks, Commies, Pinkos and Reds. Most artists are subversive by nature and love all things smutty, so I like art books and Artists’ Books, outlaw poetry and prose or anything you’d be embarrassed to show your mom.”

You won’t read that in the Houghton Mifflin annual report.

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Berman’s hand-assembled magazine, Semina, was published from 1955 to 1964 and ran nine issues. None were for sale. Copies were given away free to his friends. Currently, there’s a complete set available on the collectible market for $6,750. And that’s for a letterpressed Facsimile Edition printed in 1992. Original copes of the fragile publication are exceedingly scarce.

As a child, Wallace told his mother he would die on his 50th birthday. That premonition came to pass when, on February 18, 1976, his 50th birthday, he died in a car accident that was caused by a drunk driver.

Class War: Pt. 1 and 2

Class War: Part 1

One of our senior executives was complaining that they didn’t serve single malt premium scotch in business class on his flight back from LA. Just Dewar’s. How do you get to be so successful and so powerful and still be such a big baby?

—OR—

Is it legitimate for him to expect better after the exorbitant cost of the seat, long hours spent away from his family and crushing pressure that’s inherent in his position? I have my judgment. How do you rule?

Class War: Part 2

Young, hot, fake blonde ESPN reporter Britt McHenry was picking her car up from an impound lot and got caught on a security camera berating a towing company employee. She was mad that her car had been towed and decided to take it out on the woman behind the counter.

“[You have] no education and no skill set. Just wanted to clarify that.”

“Do you feel good about your job? So I could be a college dropout and do the same thing? Why, because I have a brain and you don’t?”

“I’m on television and you’re in a fucking trailer, honey.”

etc.

I watched the tape over and over and was driven into a mad, blind fury. The depth of my rage was disproportionate to the offense committed. This cut me to the bone. Classism is my Achilles heel. The fact that I never went to college is a 50-pound stone that’s been strapped to my back my whole life. I’ve done the best I could with the hand I was dealt but the world is full of Britt McHenrys and senior asset management executives to remind me of my place.

In her tweeted apology, she said it was “…an intense and stressful moment…” Can you imagine your life being so breezy and care-free that retrieving your car from the impound lot qualifies as intense and stressful? I’ve got very un-Christian like feelings for Ms. McHenry coursing through my veins. I fear I’ll enjoy anything bad that happens to her. I don’t want to be that guy. Consumed with schadenfreude. Hoping to see the worst happen to someone. That would make me no better than her. But it’s hard to take the high road.


There’s a smart installation at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery on 21st Street in Chelsea. Artist Tomás Saraceno’s Hybrid Solitary… Semi-Social Quintet… On Cosmic Webs… is on view through May 2nd. His medium is…spider webs.

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Each piece in the exhibit was created by spiders spinning webs.

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Cubes are constructed from carbon fiber sticks. A spider is introduced into the cube and she begins to spin a web.

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During their creation, the cubes are turned onto their various sides so that gravity becomes an element in the construction. Saraceno likens this to an hourglass being flipped. The title of each piece describes its creators and time of construction. This is:

Hybrid solitary social semi-social musical instrument Apus:
built by one Nephila clavipes-six days-
a small commuity of Stegudyphus duffori-four months-
and six cyrtophora citricola sipiderlings-two weeks

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The spiders are nurtured and fed. A jar of fruit flies is dumped into the web. Since there’s a food source, the spiders don’t stray.

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The pieces range in size and web complexity.

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Once Saraceno feels the piece is complete, the spiders are liberated, the webs are treated for preservation and the cubes are sealed off with panes of glass.

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You enter the darkened gallery by parting thick, black curtains. It’s startling to walk in from the midday sun. You’re temporarily disoriented.

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A Story of Success

Over the course of two decades in Manhattan, I met a lot of aspiring actors, musicians, singers, stand-ups, clothing designers, directors, etc., etc. Sad to say, none of them made it big. The high failure rate served as a sobering lesson to me. Why try? It fed my insecurities and predisposition for seeing failure as an unavoidable outcome.

I fell hard for actresses who would pack up and leave town because their spirits were crushed under the heavy weight of auditioning. Two or three times a week they were told they were too old, too young, too fat, too thin, too tall, had an accent, just not right for the part. A few years of that will wear your resolve down to a nub and send you into the loving embrace of the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Having said that, I just stumbled across this journal entry last night.


October 27, 1993

Do you remember that really smart guy from the writing workshop at the YMCA? David? That dude had more talent than the rest of us combined. I don’t remember if I mentioned this, but not long after the workshop ended I was making my annual holiday pilgrimage through Santaland at Macy’s. God, I love that place. If that doesn’t put you in the New York holiday spirit, then there’s a hole in the space where your heart should be.

Anyway, I was walking past Santa’s throne and felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was that guy from the workshop! He was dressed as an elf. We had a nice chat. I told him how much I enjoyed the stuff he read in class, told him he was the only one who actually made me laugh and then (stupidly) asked what he was doing there dressed as an elf. He was working.

That had a profound impact on me. Clearly, that guy has a rare gift. If he, with his divine talent, can’t make it as a writer, what hope do I have with my meager skills? During class one night, he told me he made a living cleaning apartments. He said it like it was no big deal. It didn’t bother him one bit! He’s way more evolved than I’ll ever be. I walked out of Macy’s and gave up every dream I had.

Well, guess what? This week The New York Press printed a front-page story he wrote about his experiences as an elf. It’s really funny. It looked like a horrible gig but, if nothing else, he got a good story and some exposure out of it. I wonder if he got paid? He told me his sister is in Second City. They must have a good gene pool.

My stripper story was rejected by Details. No surprise there. I’ll edit it and send it to The New York Press. I think they have lower standards. I’ll bet David could get published in Details. He’s that good. I remember the instructor giving him the number of her agent and saying his stuff is publishable. Maybe he’s one of those dudes who’s afraid of success or thinks his stuff isn’t good enough. Who knows?

[Note: That, ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t guessed already, was David Sedaris. The only guy I knew who made it. And made it, he did.]


Last week, I climbed the mighty mountain of words known as Hamlet. Actors wrestle this bear to prove their mettle. A few years ago I saw Jude Law give a surprisingly effective performance. This time, Peter Sarsgaard is the melancholy Dane. 3:20 long and he was on stage for the majority of it. No small feat.

The director chose to present it with modern dress and staging. He didn’t mess with the dialogue, obviously. Typically, I prefer a traditional presentation. Modernizing tends to take me out of the story. Fortunately, the production was absorbing enough so that the modern clothing and staging blended in instead of distracted.

Hamlet14The Classic Stage Company is a tiny venue. Only 199 seats. The stage is on the ground floor and risers wrap around three sides so you’re uncomfortably close to the action. It’s an intrusive feeling. The actors walk up the aisles and stalk the audience. I was seated in the second row. In front of me were three boys about 14 years-old. Sarsgaard was giving an impassioned speech about his murderous uncle. He walked up to one of these kids, rested on one knee, looked him dead in the eye and delivered his lines. It was a performance for one person. It showed the power an actor can have over his audience. That kid will never forget it. That won’t happen to you on Broadway, no matter how much you pay for your ticket.

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Fun fact: Hamlet is 400+ years old but it’s so steeped in our culture that you don’t need to have see it to know many of its lines. Here’s a sampling. Remember…these all come from one play.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question.”
“Frailty, thy name is woman!”
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be…”
“This above all: to thine own self be true.”
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
“In my mind’s eye.”
“When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.”
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest…”

Not bad, right?

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Table scraps is all you get

I liken this post to the medley at the end of Abbey Road; a bunch of bits and pieces and half-cooked ideas that, once assembled, are an unintended masterpiece.


They removed the stitches from my surgery last Friday at 7:00 a.m. Instead of scurrying to work late, I pointed my car in the opposite direction and drove to Atlantic City.

It was a terrible place to begin with but now, with the closing of so many casinos, it’s worse than ever. Giant, hulking buildings that are empty and boarded up. Concrete ghosts. A town that only ever had a slender chance is now completely without hope. But I can’t seem to help myself. I can’t stay away. I know it’s lowbrow but I love it so much. I can’t account for my fascination.

Only the hardcore and destitute (and me) are gambling at 10:00 on a Friday morning. Towards evening, a different crowd will arrive. Italians with a questionable sense of fashion from Philly and North Jersey will stream down the Atlantic City Expressway. They’re fun to watch, too.

While walking into the Trump Taj Mahal, a disheveled man carrying a solo cup half-filled with beer walked up to me and said, “Hey, boss, you got 50¢?” 50¢! What can you do with 50¢? I gave it to him. There’ll be no redemption for him. That town is a repository of lost souls. I tend to spend too much time feeling sorry for myself. My career isn’t where I’d hoped it would be. I can’t take The Daughters on grand, life-altering, perspective-granting vacations. I’m getting older. But one brief stroll down the boardwalk and everything snaps into focus. I’m doing okay.

This dude bought into a crap game with $2,400. In my income bracket, that’s a significant amount of money.

Rows of $100’s. The box man swipes them with a counterfeit marker.

FullSizeRender(4)In just :25 minutes he’d whittled it down to about $200. He lost it all on aggressive, stupid bets. He was very angry. He kept announcing to no one and to everyone that he’d won a lot of money the night before. They always do that. When it was his turn to throw the dice, he’d chuck them so hard that they’d bounce out of the table and land across the aisle near the blackjack tables. He was in self-destruct mode but the pit boss, box men and stick man did nothing to stop him. I see it all the time.

FullSizeRender(2)This is the Revel Casino. It’s an “invisible” building. Its skin reflects the sky. Under ideal conditions, the building fades into the background. It’s a neat architectural trick. This is an un-retouched iPhone photo.

FullSizeRenderThe owner of the house in the foreground refused to sell. Its 80-year old resident moved there when he was just 5. The Revel is one of the casinos that went belly-up, so I guess he gets the last laugh.


Last week, a gas explosion destroyed three buildings on 2nd Avenue and 7th Street in the East Village. Two people died. It’s an area that I spent an awful lot of time in, so I was saddened. I paid countless visits to the Pommes Frites shop on the way home for a late-night order of Belgian Fries. Now it’s gone.

The site of the destruction became a tourist attraction. Thoughtless shitheads posted smiling selfies on Instagram while, in the background, rescue crews frantically searched for bodies. Locals put up signs asking people to please be respectful. The stoops that afforded the best camera angles were blocked by residents.

What a bunch of narcissists we’ve become. I hate the word ‘selfie.’ It’s infantile. This morning, I read a story about two high school students in Jakarta who plunged to their death over a waterfall while taking selfies. They stepped back for a better angle and went right over the edge. I think that’s called ‘thinning the herd.’


I saw The Audience with Helen Mirren as QE2. It’s by Peter Morgan, the same guy who was responsible for The Queen. Those two have their Royal groove on. It was catnip for an aging Anglophile like myself. Not a bad likeness, eh? That’s Mirren on the right.

image002It imagines what occurred during the weekly one-on-one smackdowns between Queen Elizabeth II and the 12 Prime Ministers who served under her. (Some of the PMs were played by American actors. I wondered if that was an Actor’s Equity insistence in order to transfer it across the pond?) It also imagined the Queen confronting herself as a little girl. A compelling, seamlessly executed plot device.

image001The meetings weren’t presented in chronological order. The show time-jumped backward and forward. Lightning-fast costume and wig changes performed on stage while surrounded by Ladies in Waiting allowed Mirren to shed years and put them back on again at will. Saying she’s a great stage actor is like accusing water of being wet.

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