Tag Archive: new york

Each of the ten plays and musicals I saw in New York touched me in various ways and none, other than A Bronx Tale, disappointed me, but the one that stands in the forefront of my mind as the most personally influential has to be Sunday In The Park With George, or as my friends and I joke, Sunday in the Park With Jake Gyllenhaal.

A meditation on love, loss, disappointment, and the role of art in society, Sunday in the Park With George details the life and times of George Seurat, the painter who virtually invented pointillism and created a new, modern kind of impressionism, focusing on the importance of virtually every detail in a painting as it relates to the whole.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the moody painter George Seurat and Annaleigh Ashford backs him up as his love interest Dot, someone with whom he is ill-suited, but who captures his attention nonetheless. Jake deftly commands our attention, but I have to say that Annaleigh deftly backs him up, proving a formidable match. She loves George, but doesn’t love the artistic life and eventually a baker named Louis offers her a life of what seems to be a life of quiet contentment. Nevertheless, to the end of her life, she pines for the kind of vibrancy and artistic excitement that George Seurat offers her, and she wonders if she’s compromised herself beyond repair.

After Dot, George seems emotionally crippled. Through it all, Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics soar, painting a picture of people diminished without love in their life. His work emphasizes the compromises one makes to lead an artistic life, lessons I’m still learning. My only sadness: there probably won’t be a soundtrack to this revival, but if you happen to be in the New York area before April 23rd, catch this five star revival.


Lascivious Lifestyle

I just went to see Goodman Theater’s last matinee production of the Shakespeare play “Measure For Measure.” We also read this play for my Renaissance Literature class, a class titled, How (Not) to Be Good in Renaissance England. The class focused on the Seven Deadly Sins and their corollary virtues, and the virtue/vice that week was Lust versus Chastity.

Now Chastity is something I know a fair bit about from personal experience. My friends, who are my friends for this very reason, assure me that “it’s not me, it’s him.” I’m picky enough and virtuous enough that it’s becoming clear to me that even though I’m Catholic, I’m going to have to date a Mormon to find someone who fits my qualifications. The problem is finding a gay Mormon who isn’t emotionally damaged by his religion.

Even in Shakespeare’s day, though, people struggled with what it meant to live a virtuous life. Comedies written in that time period inevitably ended in marriage, and this proved difficult to accomplish when one of the main character’s in “Measure For Measure” is a nun. In class, we learned that this play is one of three by Shakespeare, along with “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “Troilus and Cressida,” that critics consider a “problem play.” Part of the reason it’s considered a “problem play” is because it blends incipient tragedy, moral ambiguity, and low, bawdy humor, but it’s also a “problem play” because it deals with social morass and social problems of its time. The bard set the comedy in Vienna, a city he almost surely had never been to, but the story reflects back on Renaissance England, and the city in question, a stand-in for London, faces moral and economic decay. There’s even a character named Mistress Overdone (wink wink), who almost certainly runs a brothel and is responsible for the spread of venereal disease throughout the region.

The Goodman chose to move the location of the play to 1970’s 42nd Street-style New York City. My mother hates when artistic directors “contemporize” a classic work, but in my mind this modernization makes the play relevant to our generation, though I must admit I squirmed a bit in my seat when I looked around the seats at the matinee and noticed a fair number of the grey-haired generation. But the way I look at it, people go to the theater to be challenged, not to embrace only what is comfortable, and Goodman’s “Measure For Measure” certainly challenges its audience.

Still today, a subset of the population lives a lascivious lifestyle, and unlike the play, things don’t always end happily. Not only do people catch venereal diseases, they also despair that things will ever get better. People using drugs have worn out their relatives, and I personally know of one eighteen year old who’s exhausted his family through his drug use and has ended up homeless. Another close friend had a great job, but got caught up in the drug scene, lost his job, lost his partner, lost all hope, and committed suicide.

Just because you live a virtuous life, doesn’t mean you won’t despair–virtue is no guaranteer of personal happiness–but it does tend to decrease the number of moral issues you bump your head against. Who knows? Perhaps your life will end more like a Shakespearean comedy, not a tragedy.

Two images/moments from Schindler’s List: the movie is in black and white with one exception–why do you think that might be?

A simple dusk, blood red coat moving through the crowd, then the coat flung onto an anonymous ash heap. The only bit of color in the stark, yet stirring film that is “Schindler’s List,” originally titled, I believe, “Schindler’s Ark.”

Moment number two: a child jeers at a man passing by, as he’s shuttled along like cattle to some horrible death–the man proceeds with calm serenity in his heart.

The child yells out, “JEW!” His mouth twisted in hatred at the unknown, the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable. How easy for that child to tag along with the angry crowd rather than calm his inner anger at that which he doesn’t understand. Taking an innocuous word, and filling it with venom. How long before the Jewish people were again able to call themselves, JEWS, without cringing in shame? People politely, in politically correct terms, referring to “the Jewish people, the Jewish experience,” but as the saying goes, “Until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes. . .”

How then to avoid slamming hate back in the face of hate, how to respond with serenity, even with empathy, but without bowing our heads in shame. We have all been shamed enough, all of us, all too long–Jews, Christians, Muslims, Agnostics, Buddhists, Taoists. . .The list goes on ad infinitum. Will we live in shame and fear, or will we “rise to the occasion,” rise to that which is required of us. As children of God, we do not grovel.

Free at Last, Free at Last

At XSport, the hyper-masculine gym I go to, I was amazed at the gumption of one of its members.  A white-haired man in his sixties or seventies was talking about his life to a virtual stranger, a man who appeared to be about fifty.  The fit, trim, white-haired man mentioned how his partner died at age 62. 

Whenever someone mentions a partner, not a husband or wife, my ears perk up. 

Then the man elucidated, saying when He died, the older gentleman had to reconstruct his whole life.  His message seemed to be:  indeed life goes on, and we are richer for the experience of knowing someone extra special to us, someone who has made an indelible mark, but there will always be a sense of loss and a certain type of mourning.

Despite the sadness that this man had lost his husband, I for some reason thought of that Virginia Slims cigarette commercial, some of you may be too young to remember, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”  Gay men have come from a place of shame to forthrightness, an “honest-ness” about our loves and our lives.  There was a time in Chicago and many other places where one man was not allowed to buy another man a drink.  Busts of gay bars were a regular occurrence where patrons were rounded up and arrested; then, their names were unceremoniously published in the paper. 

Then the Stonewall riots lit up New York. 

Even many young gay men and women who take their civil rights for granted don’t know about Stonewall.  It was a bar in the Big Apple frequented by gay men, lesbians, and drag queens.  On June 27, 1969, in New York’s Greenwich Village, after the Stonewall bar was busted, as had happened so many other times, in so many places, the patrons this time resisted and fought back.  It was fairly common in that era for the mafia to control gay bars, and these mafia members quickly removed the cigar boxes that served as money tills, but then something highly unusual happened.  It’s unclear whether a lesbian dressed as a man was the first one to resist arrest, or whether a defiant male in drag posed in the doorway, rallying the other people in the bar.  Whatever actually happened, the crowd decided they were not going to go quietly.  What is clearer is that the patrons began throwing coins at the officers, mocking them for the system of payoffs, commonly referred to as “gayola.”

That moment in 1969 marked the start of the gay movement.

We still have much left to do, “miles to go before we sleep,” but Stonewall changed the way gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals let people know what they will and will not tolerate. 

Now the marriage issue, along with its attendant rights, is squarely front and center in our minds, and we still fight for our civil rights, but I think it is a victory that we have come so far.  Now a sixty year old man at a gym in a conservative suburb can tell his story and let people around him know that he is gay and has had a life that matters.