Everyone’s a little bit racist. Including me.

Everyone’s a little bit racist –
All right!
Bigotry has never been
Exclusively white

Avenue Q

I’m a quasi-lefty from way back. Growing up economically challenged and spending two decades in the racial bouillabaisse of New York City inoculated me from the ravages of economic, racial or cultural insensitivity.

Or, so I thought.

Here’s a synopsis of “Smart People,” the new drama by Lydia Diamond about to open off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theater. I hope you’re sitting down.

“Four Harvard intellectuals, a medical intern angered at being underestimated by his white colleagues; a white Harvard professor whose neurological studies, he says, show that white people have a “predisposition to hate” people of other races; an African-American actress frustrated at her lack of opportunities…”

Stop right there. I’m a big supporter of the arts, especially theater (+/- 50 plays annually), but I’m not wasting a dime or my time on a play that puts forth the notion that white people are naturally predisposed to racial hatred. Additionally, all the conflicts are caused by white people. It’s a flat, one dimensional, ugly piece of bigotry. A shit premise and I reject it.

The playwright is a black female. Imagine if a white male wrote a play that concluded black men abandon their families because it’s coded in their DNA. I wouldn’t support crap like that, either. (Which is irrelevant because it’d never be produced.) This playwright isn’t some fringe crackpot. She has bona fides. She had a play produced on Broadway (which I saw and enjoyed) and the Second Stage is a major off-Broadway house.

You can argue that she’s trying to stimulate a dialogue on race but I don’t buy it. There’s nothing high-minded going on here. Setting the story in Harvard is just putting lipstick on a pig. She’s going for low-hanging fruit. Clearly, we need to have a discussion about race but I’m confident this isn’t the way to go about it. Wait until Fox News gets hold of this.

This story thread hardened my heart and blinded me to the legitimate grievances of the other characters. I couldn’t care less what their struggles were. I find this idea so odious that I give no weight to anything else she’s written.

Right on the heels of reading this, I heard Spike Lee announce that he’s boycotting the Oscars because he found the nominations too Caucasian for his liking. Jada Pinkett Smith quickly followed suit. Why would anyone care if those two clowns didn’t attend the Oscars? So stay home. I’ll take your seats. Jada named her son Jaden. Her husband Will named their daughter Willow. What a couple of narcissists. Those kids are condemned to spending the rest of their lives in a shadow.

See that? Just typing this out got me all riled up again. I’m a speeding locomotive without any brakes.

This is Jamie Dimon. He’s the CEO of firm that manages $1.7 trillion (not a typo) in assets. He came down off Wealth Mountain to share this piece of sage wisdom with the commoners at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:

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Thank you, Capt. Obvious.

How is that breaking news? Breaking News: It May or May Not Rain Tomorrow. Talk about hedging your bets. This man’s salary was just raised 35% to $27 million annually. You’d think he’d have something with a little more gravitas to impart.

Goldman Sachs just paid a $5 billion dollar fine for bundling subprime mortgages that they knew were worthless and selling them to their clients as viable investments. They knew their clients were going to lose their money but they didn’t give a damn. No one was held accountable. If someone perpetuated a fraud on that scale outside of the asset management industry, there’d be some prison time involved.

Lost sleep at Goldman Sachs: 0.0 hours.

The Asset Management industry is peopled by amoral, thieving, windbags. If my daughters go into investment banking, I’ll consider myself a failure as a parent.


Oh, it snowed, alright. 21 inches worth. I never shoveled so much snow in such a short period of time. I was a ball of hurt.

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Bowie good. Pacino bad. Pacino bad. Bowie good. Depends who you ask.

All these decades of theater-going haven’t taught me a damn thing.

About two weeks ago I saw Lazarus while it was still in previews at the New York Theater Workshop in the East Village. It’s written by David Bowie and Enda Walsh. Walsh adapted Once for the stage. You know who Bowie is. It’s a musical that uses Bowie’s back catalog and a few new songs he wrote for the play. The show is being treated like the second coming of Mashiach. It is exciting. Bowie is a recluse.

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The story is a continuation of The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s film from 1976, itself an adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel from 1963. [This town has adaptation-itis.] Spoiler alert. Thomas Newton (this time, played by Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, not Bowie) never made it back to his home planet. In fact, he’s stranded in the East Village. How appropriate. That’s pretty much all I understood because I found the entire affair to be a slow, dull, befuddled mess. I can’t say the plot meandered because in order for a plot to meander, there has to be a plot. There were characters on stage who seemed to be in a different play entirely. I surmised it was two intermissionless hours because had they given the audience an opportunity to flee, they would’ve.

Or so say I.

The reviews came out a few days ago. The Guardian gave it four stars. The New York Times said the play contained, “Ice cold bolts of ecstasy…”. Rolling Stone made a liar out of me, saying it ‘…never drags.” Tickets are impossible to get.

They’re all just saying that because it’s Bowie. I don’t know how the New York Theater Workshop manages to land these big names. This spring, Daniel Craig is playing Iago and David Oyelowo is playing Othello. That theater is only 199 seats. They could fill up a medium-sized concert hall for that show.

I think it’s safe to assume that David Mamet and Al Pacino’s best work is behind them. But, c’mon! It’s Pacino and Mamet! Attention must be paid. I saw China Doll, like Lazarus, while it was still in previews. The rumors were rampant that Pacino kept dropping lines and rewrites were being made daily. The critics smelled blood in the water. But I had a very fine evening. Some of the dialog was vintage crisp Mamet and Pacino didn’t go-up on any of his lines (that I’m aware of). It had quite a few laughs. It looked like any problems were either ironed out or never existed in the first place. Broadway chat rooms are full of jealous, gossipy, theater queens.

Then the reviews came out. There’s bad and then there’s scathing.

Variety implored Mamet to, “…quit jerking us around on non-plays like China Doll.” The New York Times said, “…extracting [the plot] from Mr. Pacino’s mumbling is really hard work.” The headline in the New York Post review was: “Al Pacino’s Broadway show is even worse than you think.”

I don’t know about all that. I kind of enjoyed myself. In the end, it hardly matters. The run sold out before previews began.

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Same thing with the stage adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery.

They all said Bruce Willis’ performance as writer Paul Sheldon was lethargic and laid back. What’d they expect? The curtain opens and both of his legs are in casts and his arm in a sling. He spends 90% of the show in a bed and the other 10% a wheelchair. It probably helps if you have really great seats because it’s such an intimate story. As usual, I had really terrible seats but I had my binoculars so I was fine.

Laurie Metcalf received universal and well-deserved praise as the demented Annie Wilks. Yes, there’s a cobbling scene and it’s horrifying to watch, even though you know Bruce’s ankles aren’t actually being broken with a sledgehammer. There are more laughs than you’d expect. The critics can bite me. I liked it just fine.

They weren’t very nice to Keira Knightley in Thérèse Raquin, either.

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The Times said it was monotonous and her performance had a joyless intensity. I’m going to have to agree with them this time, although my problem was exacerbated terrible seats in the cavernous Studio 54. Every time I see a show in that dump, I swear it’s my last. That’s why good seats are so bloody expensive. They make for a better evening.


Currently at the Kate Werble Gallery down on Vandam Street is Christpher Chiappa’s Livestrong. Chiappa’s medium is:

EGGS!

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Hell, yeah! EGGS!

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7,000 of them, in fact.

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Each one is unique and hand-made from plaster and resin.

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I like that the ones on the walls obey gravity and are a bit droopy.

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Good thing we blasted a gaping hole in the ozone layer. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have this interesting weather. Two weeks before Christmas and it’s balmy enough for a stroll on the beach and boardwalk in Asbury Park. Nothing unusual about that. Nothing at all.

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bike

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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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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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