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‘Angels in America’ Saves Us All

Yesterday I did a full Angels in America immersion–10 hours in Midtown for Parts 1 and 2. I scored cheapo tickets on TDF.com and into the Neil Simon Theater I smuggled water, sliced apples, nuts, whiskey, and lavender water in case my neighbors had hygiene challenges. (They didn’t, but because they were tuna sandwich smugglers, the lavender water proved useful anyway.) Outside the theater the city was cloudy and cold and Mercury Retrogradey. Which is to say: there was nowhere I’d rather have been.

Put simply, it was the best theatrical experience of my life—timeless and timely, emboldened and emboldening, transcendent and holy fractured. The staging–neon boxes and steampunk lanterns and ladders sliding up and down, side to side– was extraordinary. Ditto for the performances—Nathan Lane, raw and raging and hilarious, was the best anyone’s ever seen, and even Andrew Garfield’s look-Ma-I’m-playing-gaaaaaay conceit was not appalling once he found his rage. And get this: every straight male role was played by a middle-aged lady wearing a doggedly bad wig!

But all that pales in contrast to the powerful joy of hearing Tony Kushner’s words uttered live for the first time. I honestly believe he is this greatest country’s finest voice. Even in a too-many-cooks-in-a-kitchen mess like “Lincoln,” through his cadences course everything–salt and blood and cum, stone and silt and copper. The sweat and tears of our country and our heavens, basically. As when I saw Hamilton, I felt connected to the groundlings taking in Shakespeare while he was still alive. Connected to all of time.

Yes, Mrs. Lincoln, everything, and I do mean everything, was vibrant and devastating in equal measures. By the time I walked out, my legs barely worked anymore, so it was a good thing I could fly with the play’s 1980s Jewish Mormon homosexual lady angel wings. As I soared, the Eustacia Vye phrase I’ve whispered since I was a teenager flashed like another sign on Broadway: “Send me great love from somewhere, else I shall die.” That great love never did show up for me in the mommy-daddy, one-on-one incarnation I expected. But in New York’s museums, galleries, kitchens, caverns, sidewalks, subways, and, o fuck, stages–all those “melting pots that never melted”–I feel it all the time. I guarantee you everyone in attendance at this play feels it too: great art, great truth-yes, great, great love. It comes in such finely feathered forms.

‘Schindler’s List’ in Trump’s America

The first time I saw Schindler’s List, it enraged me.

Admittedly, this was not a typical response. Upon its release 25 years ago, the film was touted as the crowning glory of director Steven Spielberg’s career and 1993’s greatest cinematic achievement. At the Oscars that year, the adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s historical novel about true-life figure Oskar Schindler won seven Academy Awards, including Spielberg’s first for best director.

It wasn’t just that the 3-hour-and-16-minute film was expertly crafted. Though documentaries like “Night and Fog” (1955) and “Shoah” (1985) had already catalogued the ravages of the Third Reich, Spielberg’s feature about a German industrialist who saved more than a thousand Polish Jews ignited younger generations’ commitment to “never again” just as Holocaust survivors and witnesses were beginning to die out. In a 2013 interview, the director said, “The shelf life of ‘Schindler’s List’ has renewed my faith that films can do good work in the world.”

Really, as an introduction to both the horror and the goodness of which humans are capable, it was the ultimate Spielberg vehicle. And that was my problem in a nutshell. As the film’s credits rolled and people around me sniffed, I stormed out of the theater, saying, “Leave it to Spielberg to find the feel-good story of the Holocaust.” Continue Reading →

Schnoz Is Beautiful: Reconsidering Modigliani

The Jewess

Even a year ago, “Modigliani: Unmasked” at New York City’s Jewish Museum would not have been as timely, though its pleasures would have been just as assured. A showcase of Italian-Sephardic Jewish Amedeo Modigliani’s work as a sculptor and a craftsman, it revels in his defiant embrace of outsider status, and reminds us that extraordinary creative work can arise despite – and to spite – repressive political climates.

In 1906, when Modigliani emigrated from his native Livorno, an Italian port town known as a safe enclave for Jews, France was beset by nationalist anti-Semitism. Because of his fluency in French and Latin good looks, he might have been able to assimilate as a Gentile. Instead, as the Museum’s curatorial notes report, he’d introduce himself by saying: “My name is Modigliani. I am Jewish.” This exhibition, amassed mostly from the collection of patron and dear friend Paul Alexandre, shows the “artist as a young outsider,” exploring non-Western art and unpacking accepted notions of beauty in rough drafts and sculpture as well as a handful of completed paintings made between 1906 and 1914. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy