Fiction Forum: Nathan Englander at New School

Author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Nathan Englander paid a visit for a New School Fiction Forum and shared his latest work, Dinner at the Center of the Earth.

His fusion of somberness and wit in the midst of surviving the explosions and passing chaos of the Israelis and Palestinians conflict overwhelmed me. He speaks of having a triangular slice of American pizza after being in traumatizing proximity to a bombing, where he knew he couldn’t be deaf to “people not living.” He states that even when there are explosions out there, the writer survives with their fingers still dancing on the keyboards. Englander is quite committed to his cause of peace.

Most memorable soundbite: “I like books with no answers.”

Fiction Forum w/ Nathan Englander's at @thenewschool #newschoolwrites

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Fiction Forum with Nathan Englander at @thenewschool #newschoolwrites

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LIT #31 Magazine Launch at The New School

Attended my first New School reading, the LIT #31 launch! As its been months since I’ve been to a reading, it’s great to get inspiration refreshed, especially when hearing works from the mouths of its own authors. I had a lot of fun, tuning into the poets and story writers about post-9/11, the heat of climate change, a necrophilic mermaid, a harrowing sample of a true-story regarding escape from North Korea.

@thenewschool #newschoolwrites a poem inspired by a photo of Michael Jackson kissing Whitney Houston. LIT #31.

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@thenewschool #newschoolwrites LIT #31. A poem inspired by a dream where she had a drum for a baby.

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Brought home a literary issue of LIT from @thenewschool #newschoolwrites

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An Eulogy for THE GREAT OF COMET OF 1812 on Broadway

On Sunday September 3rd, the blaze of the Great Comet of 1812 faded into oblivion.

There is no production like the Great Comet of 1812. I could see Hamilton (if I win the lottery), I could re-view Wicked or the Lion King, but the grand design of The Great Comet 1812 is so exclusive to the space it occupied in the Imperial Theatre. The visual immersive set-up of the Imperial Theatre is nigh impossible to replicate for traditional stages.

I can’t imagine it going on tour, even if, yes, there are plans for it.

Personal concerns on translating the Great Comet to other theaters:

  • The accessibility of ALL seating floors. The actors can easily access the 2nd-floor mezzanine seating, since the stairs from the orchestra to the mezzanine are visible to the mezzanine view.
    • As an attendee of the Houston Hobby Center touring productions, this extends my concern to whether the people situated on 3rd-floor galley seats would be left out of the immersive experience. While the Hobby Center has been the venue for mainstream productions like Wicked and will be the venue for Hamilton, I picture the intimate Alley Theatre as more suited to the style of the Comet of 1812.
  • The near-omniscient visibility of the audience interaction.
  • The way its stealthily plants its lighting setup within the audience for a sensory payoff.

Thank you, composer, actor, and original Pierre Dave Malloy for making me starry-eyed.

Goodbye, my Gypsy lovers.

Act 1 has ended. @greatcometbway

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Groundhog Day Musical: Delivers Solid Expectation, Act 2 Compensates for Disenchanting Act 1

There’s not much to say about the Groundhog Day musical excepts that it delivers the expected package. I entered Groundhog Day musical at the August Wilson Theater, forecasting a three-out-of-four stars romp. With the fondly remembered 1993 Bill Murray classic movie to work off, all motions in the musical are the identical blueprints of the movie, though it has all the charm it can give for a theatrical stage production with a talented team.

While I’m tired of a trend of non-musicals movies being converted into stage musicals (with the exception of movies like Billy Elliot that at least had explicit stage elements translatable to live musicals), Groundhog Day at least adapts a non-musical movie that lends itself well to musical material, with the premise involving the motif of repetition. Overall, the production compresses all the scenarios, lifted from the movie, that a man in a magical unexplained time-loop would undergo, from existential denial, to hedonist consequence-free pursuits, to suicidal attempts, to time-killing philanthropy.

 

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Phil Connors (Andy Karl), a cynical weatherman, returns to the small-town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day festival, an annual routine which he so loathes. When he’s not complaining about his dead-end job or moaning about leaving ASAP, he’s making passes at the producer Rita, who bears his assholery with patience and irritation. But the town is snowed-in, and he is forced to spend another night, only to wake up to the same Groundhog Day again and again, reliving déjà vus of the minuscule details, to the point where he attunes himself to the everyday choreography of the policeman dropping his holster and the scripts of the townspeople quips.

But admittedly Act 1, while well-focused on the plot motions, does not quite gel with the entertainment. Some of the ha-ha moments, with Danny Rubin reprising his screenplay authorial-ship with the musical’s book, do not age well. Haha, misogynistic hedonistic weatherman making passes at co-worker. Even the most amusing number, “Stuck,” where he turns to unhelpful quark doctors and priest to cure his “stuckness,” feels oversaturated with Tim Minchin’s assaultive rhymes.

But the passable-ness of Act 1 somehow skillfully allows the heart to kick in at the start of Act 2’s opening number “Playing Nancy,” performed by Rebecca Faulkenberry, giving a memorable limelight to what seemed like a disposable female character, which sets up the tint of existentialism and heart to segue into the plot, and a number that pleads for the audience to see that despite the surface-level hickness of the townspeople, perhaps we should be encourage to see their nuances.

Andy Karl as the leading man is a walking fun, bouncing from egotistical humor to pathos, and once the character settles into despair and solemnness, he avoids sacrificing his humorous edge along the way. Jenna Rubai, the Rita of the Sunday matinee, also has a cheery charm, while also being no-nonsense. The ensemble cast do get their points to shine, with Sean Montogomery (matinee understudy) as the perky insurance salesman Ned Ryerson singing a few comedic jingles before having his own melancholy solo.

And with the team of Matilda the Musical reunited for this production, the scenic design is unsurprisingly atmospheric and aesthetically pleasing, fashioning an intimate small town without overplaying its quirks. The massive stage turntable does its swift job at showing the momentum of Phil’s cyclical day-by-day world. Peter Darling’s choreography is eye-catching as expected. While Tim Minchin’s lyricism is not on par with the smartly Roald Dahl-realm of his wickedly clever wordplay and rhymes in Matilda the Musical, his score is still serviceably and jazzily ear-wormy and echoing with tints of the right quirks in its comedic tone.

Although I wish its Act 1 promised me a better romp, I was grinning after Act 2.

Post-Show

 

WAR PAINT the musical: Brushstrokes of Two Powerful Women

Women find their empowerment in the exterior shells of their face, namely through the powder and color of make-up on their cheeks and lips.

patti lupone

One woman, an Elizabeth Arden perceives power in beauty and markets to the trends of a time when men run the nation. Arden compacts her products in her signature trademark pink. But intervening in her prosperity is the return of her competitor Helena Rubinstein, Patti LuPone in her delicious bombastic diva-ness, who sells on her pseudo-science of her products and the gimmick of selling “night/day” jars that have no distinction in their ingredients. Locked in competition, they ultimately become, though their tribulations, as a result of historical circumstances or their own attempts at sabotaging each other, yields swells of resentment, and even empathy, for each other’s ambitious spirits. Even in their irritation, they cannot help but to feel kinship. LuPone’s “Now You Know” is both gloating while sympathetic all at once, when she leans that Arden had been excluded by old money society.

Inspired by the Lindy Woodhead’s biography and the 2007 documentary film The Powder & the Glory, the War Paint covers the rivalry of two cosmetic titans.

The book by Doug Wright contains the rich ingredients of a powerhouse bio musical, though its ingredients don’t build up to a satisfying pot, sometimes passing over its depth to invoke fascinating ideas and political concepts rather than exploring the skin-deepness of them. If anything Act I feels like a by-the-numbers set-up toward a great Act II, where the stakes and poignancy of aging beauty queens finally settles in. I question whether the musical book is simply a vehicle for duets between two stars and to show-off the glamor and gimmicks of the time period, with a sprightly, swelling score by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie.

Although the show brushes over the deep effects their work had on their women, focusing on check-listing off the episodes of their competition, LuPone and Abernole are clearly the forefront driving force of the musical. Arden and Rubinstein are two ambitious women, content to preserve their self-mythologizing American Dream spirit for their empire. Abernole and LuPone, despite never having their literal face-to-face in the musical, are a marvelous interplay.

There’s a fascinating rhetorical question Arden invokes, “Did we make slaves out of women?” contemplating the effects of make-up on the esteem and perception of women and their station in society. Arden has a poignant solo, “Pink,” where she meditates on how she’ll be only known by the gimmick of a color, though Abernole reveals both a clashing nostalgia and discontent toward the color that defined her.

War Paint closely matches the promises of its concoction. In the realm of stage, it allows a perfect set-up for them to stand (against) together in the spatial abstract of theater.

In “Beauty In the Whole,” the mythologizing is furnished with their face-to-face, a profound hypothetical of curiosity to allow an introspection of their possible feminist alliance and their perpetuating rivalry. The two women can’t stop trying to one-up each other, but they discover their common ground.

Their hypothetical duet regarding a non-existence meeting insists that perhaps these two competitors, like the leading LuPone and Abernole, were more compliments to each other, rather than enemies.