About Me

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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Favorite Urban Legend

A few weeks ago, after attending a reading, I headed to a nearby bar with some of the cast for a little post-performance celebration. As we shot the breeze, swapped our stories and jokes, a friend of mine spoke up. "Wait, wait," he said, "I know a great one. I know someone whose friends once asked her to dog-sit for their very old dog."

He didn't need to say another word. I knew where it was headed. I could have stopped him right there, said, "ooh, I know this one - this is a good one." But I didn't. Where would the fun have been in that? I love this story.

The story goes - if you're curious - like this: A girl volunteers to dog-sit for a family she knows. The dog is getting on in dog years, and while the family is away, he dies. She calls the family, distraught, but the family says not to worry. The poor guy was very, very old and the death is not at all unexpected. They tell her to bring the dog's body to the family's veterinarian. He'll know what to do with it. So she does.

But, now, the vet is a ways away, and, not knowing better how to get the dead dog there, she packs it into a duffel bag and takes it on the subway. Of course, the still old dog corpse is pretty heavy, so she struggles with it a bit on the stairs. A man, seeing her struggle, helps her onto the subway with the bag.

"That's one heavy bag," says the man when they get on the train. "What have you got in there?" And the girl, obviously not wanting to tell the truth, says, "Oh, you know, just stuff I'm bringing home from college. Books, clothes, my computer, ipod, stuff like that." And you see where this is going. At the next stop, the man grabs the duffel bag and runs off the train just as the doors are closing.

This is, without a doubt, my favorite urban legend. At this point, I have heard this story from at least four separate sources; the number might actually be closer to five or six.

I love this story. It fills me with a deep joy and fondness for my fair city. I don't know exactly why. Maybe it's because I heard the story for the first time shortly after I moved to New York, and it makes me remember loving the city with a fresh heart. Maybe it's because it's so quintessentially. Struggling down the stairs and allowing a stranger to help with us with our load; muggings, or hearing about muggings on the street or on the train; and of course, carrying something unlikely and entirely ludicrous onto the subway - these are all such familiar circumstances. it seems only a matter of time and fortune before they should align so perfectly and comically.

Or maybe it's because it feels like something communal- some kind of great in-joke, a story in which we've all partaken. It's something that we've all laughed at, loved, and shared and, for a moment, that makes this great behemoth of a city seem a little smaller.

Here is something interesting, though: the facts never seem to change. I've heard this story possibly a half a dozen times and, unlike most urban legends, the facts of it never seem to change. There's no confusion over detail or circumstance. No, "Oh, I heard it was a dead cat," or, "The way I heard it, it was her dog." No, it's always a girl, always dog-sitting, always a duffel bag on the way to the vet. It's so consistent, it makes me wonder if this is not an urban legend, but a very famous, entirely true story.

Who out there has heard this story? Do you remember who told it to you? Do you know - or know somebody who claims to know - the original source of this story? How fantastic would it be if we could track her down?

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's Been a While

Good lord, it's been a long time since I posted. It's been a long and trying month of job searching and scheduling insanity, ultimately leading to my current gainful employment: a new job waiting tables. Which, sufficed to say, only means the lunacy and scheduling nightmare has only just begun. Hello shift-switching, restaurant politics and despotic managers*, how I've NOT missed you.

As all this madness was going on, one of my close friends said to me, "Why don't you blog about everything that's going on with your job search? That's a part of working in the theater and living in New York City - why don't you share that?"

"Yes," I said, "But there's nothing INTERESTING about that story. What would I say? I looked for another temp job for a while, but none of the temp agencies I signed up with had any work for me, and then I applied for nearly 50 entry-level administrative jobs, only one of which gave me an interview and I didn't get it so I finally had to face the music and look for another restaurant job and then I got really depressed because the only thing I'm apparently qualified to do is wait tables? That's not a good read."

But if you're curious as to what I've been doing these past few weeks, there it is in a nutshell.

And when I haven't been losing my mind over that small matter of paying rent, here's a few other things I've been up to.

  • Signed on to direct Captain Moonbeam and Lynchpin a short play by James Comtois for the Brick Theater's Comic Book Theater Festival. I'm really excited about this. It's a great play and I can't wait to take a crack at it. This is also my first time working with James' theater company, Nosedive Productions, and I've heard nothing but good things about them.

    Tickets are already on sale for the show through Ovationtix - get them here.
  • Played around with the awesome people from Flux Theatre Ensemble. I've been able to attend a couple Flux Sundays and even had the pleasure of directing a scene for the most recent installment of their Have Another reading series. And oh. my. gosh. What a joy it's been to get to know this group of artists. These are some of the most talented, enthusiastic and nicest theater people I've met in New York City.
  • Hosted my old BFF from high school, visiting from Chicago and we had the kind of amazing, exhausting experience that you can only have with someone who's seeing the city for the first time. We wandered around Central Park and the East Village, we ate from food trucks, we got bagels from the best bagel place I know of in the city (that would be Absolute Bagels on 108th and Broadway, thankyouverymuch). We had late-night drinks at the newest neighborhood joint. We took a walking tour of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, stopping for pierogis for lunch, followed by a walking tour of Chinatown, stopping for dim sum for dinner - that day was our cultural dumpling food tour. We went to a concert (PJ Harvey), we went dancing at a gay club. Yes, dancing. At a gay club. Till 3 in the morning. At one point I found myself suddenly and inexplicably hoisted into the air by a half-naked man. It was a great and grueling few days.
  • Partook in a Spring holiday marathon. I went to a Passover Seder on Saturday night, only to literally wake up the next day and immediately have an Easter brunch. What time I didn't spend this weekend savoring brisket and matzo ball soup and watching the Prince of Egypt was taken up by desperately cleaning, grocery shopping and preparing pierogis from scratch. The recipe is my grandma's, brought with her parents from Hungary and taught to me when I was 14 years old. And Easter tradition in my family for the simple and accidental reason that my grandma was visiting over Easter when she taught me the recipe. It's a strange tradition, but one that makes me feel specially connected to her, my family, and my heritage - something that, besides this recipe, seems to have all but dissolved like gossamer threads in its eventual journey across the continental U.S.

    The spring holiday marathon was an intense 24 hours of celebrations, but it was beautiful and it was spring and oh. I live for weekends like that.
  • Saw some pretty sweet things by some Sarah Lawrence alumni. First, a reading of Sharon Is My Name, a new adaptation of The Merchant of Venice by the always-on Daniel Kelly; next, a performance of a lovely play entitled Harlowe by Jennifer Lane (her thesis project for her MFA in playwriting from Columbia, by the way). And most recently, Brick by Brick, a new musical by Ross Wade (book and lyrics) and Nehemiah Luckett (music) based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe - a really strong work; I'm excited to see how it develops from here. It's inspiring to see so many Sarah Lawrence people involved in such great projects.
And that's how I spent my summer vacation.

*It should be noted that all my managers seem perfectly nice so far. But I've been burned before. All I'm sayin'.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Broadway Shows That Everyone Liked But Me

I keep getting comp tickets to Broadway shows, courtesy of my delightful and generous friend Teresa, and I keep disliking them (either vaguely or acutely). I've left, on all three occasions in question, with such an overwhelming feeling of eh that I haven't even felt compelled to write a review of any of them. But here they are, if anybody is keeping track.

Of all the three, I disliked this one the least. In fact, I liked much about it and even liked the whole show at certain points, from certain angles. It was a very pretty play - pretty is the only word I can find to describe it. A lot of interesting ideas about God and energy and violence and consequences run through the play like a pretty piece of ribbon that ties up quite nicely at the end. It makes you consider, and consider ideas that are worth considering at that. So what was my trouble? Underdone character development, plain and simple. None of the characters felt like real characters to me - rather, they were devices that pushed forward the play's philosophical musings. I never felt connected to any of them, they had no texture or depth. I couldn't tell you a thing about them other than what they said and did in front of me on stage. A friend of mine told me she loved the character of the young, stupid soldier because he was exactly like every boy she ever knew who became a soldier. Perhaps this was the problem: he was so much every soldier that he was no longer an individual, more a symbol than a fleshed-out person. And while symbolic characters are often fine, important even, do you really need another one in a play with a talking spirit tiger? What's more, the same could be said of all of the characters. All of them made bold and provocative statements about spirituality, morality, and free will. None of them really filled the shoes they stood in.

I enjoyed Good People as I watched it, but disliked it so much once it was over I actually became a bit resentful of it. Resentful of how it lectured to me, of how it beat me over the head for two hours with a concept I got in the first two minutes of the play. Unlike Terry Teachout, I disliked this play not because of the "crude deck-stacking" in favor of the maligned underclass, but because it was insufferable even-handed. THIS IS A COMPLICATED ISSUE! WITH NO EASY ANSWERS! It seemed to scream at me at every turn. There were multiple scenes where I could find no earthly reason why the two people on stage were still talking to each other, except that Lindsay-Abaire had more to say about class dynamics.

I'm more befuddled by the overwhelmingly positive reviews of this baby than any of the others. Really? Really?? Because all I saw was a markedly lackluster theatrical event. Everything about it seemed both static and staid, as if the musical were even bored with itself.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Feeder: A Love Story

I got slightly distracted this week with that small matter of having a job, but before I completely lost touch, I had the chance to see Feeder: A Love Story by James Carter at the HERE Arts Center. Feeder, the latest from terraNOVA Collective which closed on Sunday the 26th, is a provocative tale about a shocking, strange, and thoroughly human relationship.

Jesse and Noel are married. They're madly in love, care fiercely for one another, and would do almost anything for each other. They're a typical happy couple - except for one small thing: Jesse is 703 pounds and Noel is her "feeder." The two are engaged in feederism - a relationship in which both parties derive pleasure from one person feeding the other in order to cause weight gain. As the play opens, Jesse and Noel have decided to pursue the ultimate and elite feeder goal: 1000 pounds.

Except Noel comes home one day to find nothing but a hole in the wall and a note from his wife. Jesse has left - taken away to a weight loss clinic by a talk show host for whom she used to work. While Jesse is at the clinic contemplating when and how her new life will take shape, Noel is left at home to deal with the aftermath of a life unraveled and a wife whose goals and aspirations have suddenly and inexplicably veered away from his own.

Feeder: A Love Story really succeeds in the sensitivity and sympathy with which its characters are painted. As bizarre and even grotesque as their lifestyle might seem to the audience, to outsiders, the core from which their strange choices come, their basic needs, fears, desires are familiar and universal. They want what we all want: love, sex, to care and be cared for. It's easy to become invested the dynamic of their relationship and its possible breaking apart.

And yet, as human and as genuine as Jesse and Noel are, the play never advocates for them, it never preaches. It presents a complex relationship with no easy answers - just like any relationship - and lets the audience be its own judge. I felt for Noel, for example, I really did. But at the same time, I'm not sure I liked him - or at least, his choices. As much as I understood his desires, I can't seem to reckon with how a person could do what he did to someone he loved. How could you want someone you genuinely care about to fall prey to all the attending health risks of morbid obesity? Getting off on the feeder lifestyle seems to me, in some ways, tantamount to getting off on slowly killing your partner.

And after Jesse "goes immobile," as they pursue their 1000-pound goal, Noel talks a great deal about about how rewarding it is to take care of Jesse, to be there for her every need. Feeling needed by the people you love is an intoxicating sensation, but how can you relish in the giving when you're also a part of the taking away? Later, Jesse expresses second-thoughts about what they're doing and Noel responds with reticence. "This is my life," he tells her, and I couldn't help but think, "No... it's hers."

I felt similarly vexed by Jesse's choices, although less so - perhaps because I'm a woman and identified more strongly with her, perhaps because she ultimately makes the choice to leave the lifestyle, although she doesn't regret her time with Noel. "I'm proud of what we did," she says, and takes great pains to make that point clear. The truth is they were happy together, they were in love.

The play takes place largely in vlog form: Noel records videos for his and Jesse's online following, Jesse keeps a video log for the talk show which her benefactor and former boss hosts, on which she'll eventually be a guest. The vlogging integrated well into the online/social media aspect of the show: both Jesse and Noel have websites and Twitter accounts that you can follow online. This digital component worked well for the story being told. Noel often repeats the refrain, "Everyone needs a corner of the internet, and this is ours." Without the internet, Jesse, Noel, and their unseen internet following would be isolated, silenced, left alone to wrestle with their strange and inexplicable desires. But online, they become part of a community, their identities validated and affirmed. Without the internet, this story would never have taken place, so it makes perfect sense that we should be able to follow it on the internet as well as in the theater.

Still - and perhaps it's just a question of personal taste (I've voiced this feeling before) - the strongest moments of the play came when Jesse and Noel unhook from their computers and occupy the same space together. The scenes where they speak their monologues into their respective digital devices were good, but the moments when the speak to one another were exponentially more powerful. I would have liked to have seen more of that.

Still, Feeder: A Love Story is a sweet play, a sad play, a thought-provoking play. It leaves room for speculation and contemplation. Should they be proud of what they did, as Jesse says? Would their relationship have endured, in different circumstances, beyond their feeder lifestyle? There are no easy answers.

What made me love Feeder even more, though, was the conversation with the playwright I had after the show. He spoke eagerly and passionately about "the community" of feeders, of how they had responded to the show and Jesse and Noel's blog leading up to the show. He offered interesting facts about the research into the community he had done and fascinating stories about people he had met. I loved this conversation for the same reason I loved Feeder: A Love Story. It gave a voice to an unrepresented or misunderstood facet of the human experience. It brought depth and dimension that I would have otherwise never known.