NEW YORK PRESS columns Part 4

 
“Working Hard or Hardly Working”: Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk and Dark Ride

Any trip to Europe quickly shows up how undereducated Americans are. Every kid on the street in Berlin or Brussels speaks two or three languages. Amsterdam shopkeepers make it their business to be fluent in seven. The vast majority of Americans speak one measly tongue and expect everyone else to make up for our ethnocentricity. Our theater works the same way. The main language that our plays speak is: exposition, conflict, climax, resolution. (Based on the Western white man's language of love: foreplay, friction, squirt, zzzz.) Theater I like to see shows me a new world, rather than a sitcom version of everyday life. Sometimes that world reveals itself through a story I haven't heard, and sometimes it comes out in a new language.

Watching George C. Wolfe's production of *Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk* at the Public Theater, I spent the first half just trying to figure out what I was watching. It seemed like scrambled eggs, half revue sketches, half history lesson. Finally it dawned on me that Wolfe was trying to develop organically a new form -- a new theatrical language -- in which to tell the story of African-American history. Rather than write a European-style play with characters enacting that history, instead he assembled a number of volatile ingredients in his laboratory on Lafayette Street. Take one 22-year-old Broadway tap-dance prodigy, Savion Glover, and ask him to bring his posse with him (four other young tappers who call themselves Real Tap Skills and a pair of subway-station bucket-pounders known as Drummin Too Deep). Add one blues singer, Ann Duquesnay, and one rap poet, Reg E. Gaines. Simmer for six months. Season to taste.

The result very much reflects Wolfe's taste. It made me realize that Wolfe does the same thing with every show he makes as writer-director, which is view black American history through some peculiar lens: pop culture stereotypes (*The Colored Museum*), Zora Neale Hurston's Southern folk tales (*Spunk*), Jelly Roll Morton's internalized racism (*Jelly's Last Jam*). It also reminded me that much of the best black theater of the last 30 years has had to forge new theatrical forms to contain its revolutionary content. I'm thinking of LeRoi Jones' *Slaveship*, Ntozake Shange's *for colored girls*, Adrienne Kennedy's plays, and those of August Wilson (which are much more radical than the tepid '50's-realistic productions they tend to get on Broadway), to name just a few examples.

In *Noise/Funk*, the connection between the historical material and the way it gets conveyed in song and dance is tenuous, sometimes strained. And Wolfe tends to hit the same two notes over and over again: How We've Been Fucked Up by Racism, and How We Find Ways to Fuck Ourselves Up. But he and his collaborators have succeeded in finding a loose, non-cliched form to show off the African-American history that lives in the bones of dazzling young performers. I could listen to Ann Duquesnay sing all night. Savion Glover, who cooked up the show with Wolfe, doesn't hog the spotlight but mostly blends in with his sterling posse. He does take one stunning solo turn, a 12-minute tap accompanied by his taped reminiscence of his dance mentors Chuck Green and Jimmy Slyde, which in passing gives away Glover and Wolfe's intention with *Noise/Funk*: "They wuz into educatin', not entertainment."

Playwright Len Jenkin is also trying to work out a new theatrical language, one that combines the film-noir milieus and detective-story plots of Raymond Chandler novels with the literary metaphysics of Jorge Luis Borges. The plot of *Dark Ride*, which Soho Rep premiered in 1981 and is reviving now, concerns a far-flung collection of demimondaines who converge at an oculists' convention in Mexico City. But the story is about the terrifying chaos of existence, signified not by the stupidity and senseless violence that fills Hollywood movies but by the fact that smart people can't locate the truth no matter how many books they read. In this play the characters' lives are linked by reading and writing. The translator working on a supposedly ancient Chinese epic comes across a passage about Margo, who's reading a novel and gets postcards from her boyfriend, a thief who reads an article in *UFO Review* by Mrs. Carl Lammle, who has spent 30 years studying coincidences that show up in the Bible...and so on.

I have to confess I had an existential crisis watching this show. There I was sitting in the midst of Julian Webber's imaginative staging, with Anthony MacIlwaine's carnival-boardwalk set wrapped around the audience and Adam Silverman's ingenious lighting redefining the space and redirecting attention every few minutes. A cast of excellent actors, some of whom I've been watching for 20 years, were working their butts off. As Reed Birney's Translator was pouring out his anguished frustration, I thought to myself, "I don't care about any of this." I thought, not for the first time, "Maybe I've seen too many plays. Theater has lost its magic for me." Two minutes later, the spotlight turned on Marylouise Burke as Mrs. Carl Lammle, who told a story about a time in her life when she had a job demonstrating Magic Chef kitchen ranges. And I was transported by the Brechtian simplicity of Burke's storytelling. (As BB put it, "Just tell the story.") And in that moment I realized there was something wrong with the production. The playwright wasn't trying to make me cry or get mad. He was after something more modest, more intellectual. He wanted me to see and to think. And the actors were getting in the way. They were trying too hard to make me care.

January 17, 1996

“’Gimme Shelter’ Twice”: The Grey Zone and 20th Century Pop

Every period piece is as much about the time it's written in as the time it depicts. Tim Blake Nelson's play *The Grey Zone* at MCC Theater is partly an historical fiction devised to contain some information about the *Sonderkommando*, prisoners in Nazi concentration camps whose work detail was to herd fellow prisoners into the gas chambers and otherwise assist in their extermination. It's also an examination of how human beings make moral choices in a less-than-perfect world -- not just the world of 1944 Poland but also 1996 New York. The characters in the play are men who, when selected for the grim job of doing the Nazis' dirty work for them, could have said no and been shot on the spot. But they didn't. Day after day they lived with that choice and faced new ones. Okay, so we live in a society where racism is institutionalized and where the distribution of wealth is obscenely unequal. White people haven't gone on general strike until racial parity is established; most people with a few bucks in their pocket don't turn them over to the first beggar on the street. What are the large and small accommodations we make every day between our ideals and our reality?

At least that's what I thought Nelson was interested in talking about for the first half of *The Grey Zone*. I was riveted, thanks to the intensity of the actors and the stylized quality of Douglas Hughes' production. More wrenching than Nelson's dialogue were wordless scenes dominated by dreadful sounds: a man in shadows downing a bottle of vodka to the roar of the crematorium; a doctor bent over his microscope, fortifying himself with brandy and trying to take notes to the steady report of single-bullet gunfire. The visceral impact of these scenes edged toward sensationalism at the end of the first act. Max, who we've first seen smothering with a pillow a prisoner who's botched a suicide attempt, dragged in a girl who has survived the gas chamber. She was naked, bruised, bloody, gurgling, and choking as the doctor attempts to revive her. It was an upsetting scene. I was upset. Then when the lights came up for intermission, Sarah leaned over and whispered her half-time assessment: "Holocaust kitsch."

I was willing to believe that the playwright was borrowing certain potboiler elements in order to mount a symbolic framework for an ethical discussion. Ultimately, though, Sarah was right. The play turned out to be less interested in hard moral choices than in heroism of the macho narcissistic variety deified in Bruce Willis movies, wrapped in some specious program-note verbiage about "the criminality of being alive." How the guys in the *Sonderkommando* distinguished their actions from those of Nazis turned out to be plot points rather than moral questions. Blackmailing the guard to hide the girl, stockpiling weapons to blow up the crematorium -- these things couldn't have happened historically, so they negate the moral questions Nelson supposedly wants to raise. At the same time, such caper-movie actions provide juicy scenes of yelling, arguing, and dying for the fiery actors, who do a great job playing *Reservoir Dogs Goes to Auschwitz*. No matter how ridiculous their characters became, they played people rather than types or symbols. I was especially impressed with Gus Rogerson and David Chandler as prisoners, Henry Stram as the existential Nazi, and Christopher McCann in the central role of the doctor who survives to tell the tale. An excellent actor with scrupulous integrity, McCann plays the kind of self-sacrificing character Susan Sarandon parlays in *Dead Man Walking* but without any of the bug-eyed saintliness.

Historical distortion of a less dire sort takes place in the cabaret revue at Rainbow & Stars called *20th Century Pop*, an absurdly misleading title for a show that skips over the entire catalog of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway for the likes of Mr. Mister's "Broken Wings" and Jackie DeShannon's "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." Never mind. The show is nothing more than an excuse to squeeze three minor legends of rock and roll -- Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, and Marianne Faithfull -- into an intimate supper-club setting, the better to blow the top of your head off. It's a weird thrill I highly recommend. Don't be daunted by the pricey cabaret setting; late shows during the week are only $20 plus whatever you drink. For that you get to watch Faithfull, looking like Chief Inspector Jane Tennison from *Prime Suspect* dolled up for a night on the town, camp through Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" and take finger-snapping lessons from the sisters. Belting out "Let's Stay Together" and (her claim to fame) "Gimme Shelter," Clayton is so irrepressible she has gray-haired bankers clapping and singing along to "Rape, murder, it's just a shout away!" And lemme tell ya, sitting just a few feet from Darlene Love, conceivably the world's most radiant 58-year-old, while she pumps out "He's a Rebel," "A Change Is Gonna Come," even "Broken Wings" is more joy than age or time can ever destroy.

January 24, 1996

“Clear as Galas”: Elevator Repair Service and Diamanda Galas

Sarah and I spent an evening at P.S. 122 recently where the work on display was less remarkable than the community feeling in the room. You've had that experience, haven't you, where you went to a show and afterwards the only thing you remember is who your date was or the celeb you spotted in the john? I remember taking my friend Peter Evans, a superb actor no longer with us, to see *The Gospel at Colonus* at BAM; I thought it was pretty cool that we ran into Glenn Close, whom Peter knew and who was there with her then co-star Jeremy Irons, in the lobby, but then we ended up sitting next to Jackie Kennedy, who was with Maurice Templesman and schmoozed at intermission with Leonard Bernstein two rows ahead of us. It was a landmark in our friendship.

So here are Sarah and I, at the first-floor theater at P.S. 122. There's a lot of history in this room. She's had plays performed here, and I've been on this stage myself, playing a cheerleader in a little red pleated Anna Sui skirt, so we both know how crummy the "dressing rooms" are. We both know Mark Russell, who tirelessly keeps this space open to the young, the emerging, and the too-far-out-to-make-it- anywhere-else. I've seen legends-in-their-time here (Tim Miller, Holly Hughes, the late Ethyl Eichelberger) and plenty of forgettable stuff. Tonight we're seeing two shows. The first is by Elevator Repair Service, a 13-member collective that's been together since 1991; this is their sixth show, and the first one I've seen. I didn't know 'til I arrived that the director is John Collins, who interned for me at *7 Days* when he was still a student at Duke. Since then he's worked sound for Richard Foreman and the Wooster Group. That explains why the Wooster Group is in the house tonight -- Willem Dafoe, Liz LeCompte, Kate Valk, Peyton Smith, the whole gang. Liz comes over to chat about the weird letter she sent me. She says she didn't mean to sound so control-queeny. Hurt feelings smoothed over, she tells me they're holding off reviews of *The Hairy Ape* (in which Dafoe gives his best performance so far) because they want to get an extended run at a bigger theater uptown.

Once the show starts, it's hard get the Wooster Group off the brain. The performance is entirely built around a clever, eclectic soundtrack sampling everything from campy cocktail music and dub reggae to cut-up scripts from early '50s radio plays by a Pittsburgh DJ named Judson Fountain. The actors break into abrupt silly dances, manipulate low-tech props, do comedy routines blindfolded, exhibit a love-hate relationship with corny Americana -- all the things we've seen in Wooster Group pieces, only there these things fit into an overall aesthetic scheme that has something to say. These kids don't seem to be saying anything in particular. The first five minutes are funny, and then nothing develops. Eventually I get the picture that here are some young artists with talent and energy to burn honing their chops until they do having something to say.

After that, I just relax, read the hilarious program bios (what would contemporary culture be like without stoned humor?), cruise the actors. Rinne Groff is really talented and funny. Scott Shepherd is really cute. Love those redheads. And that's James Hannaham, whose byline I've been reading for years. He covers theater, disco, and cyberspace for the *Voice*. He showed off his buff torso as the cover model for Greg Tate's regrettable "The Black Lesbian Within Me" piece. He writes an advice column for *HX* as Miss Banjee Realness, a character that sprang full-blown from a *Voice* cover story on gay marriage and dispenses wisdom to Texas TVs with suspicious boyfriends ("If he wants a baby or something, just take one out the hospital.") Here he's putting his performing butt on the line, playing a Jamaican real estate agent in act one and a lisping French fag in act two. Go, Hannaham!

After ERS, Sarah and I repair to Lucky Dog for a cocktail before meeting Sarah's girlfriend Carrie and her celebrity date Kathy Acker for the late show of Diamanda Galas. The place is packed, lines up three flights of stairs. We have two press seats saved and grab two more. The ten seats previously occupied by the Wooster Group now have signs saying "Reserved -- Ono." Twenty minutes after the announced showtime, the signs are removed (Yoko stayed home to watch Jay Leno?), and grateful standing-roomers leap in. The lights go out, and the diva takes her place in front of a podium with five mikes.

I saw Galas once before at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, a perfect setting for her fierce, theatrical, witchlike incantations. Hearing her plague art on records made me steer clear -- not my idea of a fun night out, but I guess I also fear falling into the hole of my own AIDS grief and never getting out. But *Schrei X*, the piece at P.S. 122, isn't just gloom, doom, and wasabi for the ears. As an experiment in sound and soul (as in dark-night), it is undeniably virtuosic and, at 27 minutes, exactly the right length. Afterwards, Sarah invites me to hang with her and Acker, who looks surprisingly pretty in makeup and lipstick. But it's nearly midnight, and Harvey's waiting for me at my place, so I let them do the girl thing while I go home to bed.

January 31, 1996

“Old Dog, New Tricks”: An Epidog

When I moved to New York at the tail end of 1979, a decade-long wave of exciting New York experimental theater was just cresting. I'd caught a few glimpses of good stuff on forays from Boston, but most of the great performances of the late '60s and '70s were the stuff of swoony myth to me. Robert Wilson's 24-hour *The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud*! The Living Theater's *Frankenstein*! The Open Theater's *The Serpent*! JoAnne Akalaitis's *Dressed Like an Egg*! God, how I wished I'd seen those shows! It seemed so unfair. Musical-comedy queens fixated on shows that ran for years and produced cast albums as artifacts; movie buffs had revival houses (and later video) to satisfy their craving to see everything. These avant-garde spectacles, though, played a week or a month and then they were history. As a wise old theater head once pointed out to a wunderkind fretting over a sold-out short run, "The legend is created by the people who weren't there."

Of all the productions I read about in the *Village Voice* and the *Soho Weekly News*, the one I wish I'd seen most was Mabou Mines's *The Shaggy Dog Animation*, a three-act, four-hour rock-&-roll puppet opera written and directed by Lee Breuer that played a few weeks at the Public Theater in 1978 and passed immediately into legend. Breuer is one of the founders of Mabou Mines, a fertile avant-garde theater collective that gave birth to the careers of at least six artists who are only a MacArthur away from being certified geniuses: composer Philip Glass, director JoAnne Akalaitis, performers Ruth Maleczech, Fred Neumann, and the late David Warrilow, and writer-director Breuer. Breuer was the first to achieve semi-stardom for his series of three animal fables or "Animations," culminating in *Shaggy Dog* (aka *A Dog's Life*), a port-mortem on the love affair of a man and a dog, John and Rose. He's best known for creating with Bob Telson *The Gospel at Colonus*, a bizarre hybrid of Greek tragedy and gospel music that rocked BAM, Broadway, and the world. Other than that he's mostly done exquisite chamber pieces (the doo-wop opera *Sister Suzie Cinema*, the video meditation *Hajj*) and big sloppy messes (*The Tempest* in Central Park, a gender-crossed *King Lear*, *The Warrior Ant* at BAM). Whatever he does, Breuer always pushes the limits -- of production budgets, of stage technology, of actors' resources, of audiences' patience, of his own imagination. He can be madly brilliant or simply maddening.

At HERE Arts Center, Mabou Mines is celebrating its 25th anniversary with Breuer's latest, a sort of epilogue to *A Dog's Life* called *An Epidog*. This piece is truly a port-mortem: it's set in what the Tibetans call the bardo, the spiritual way station where souls rest between death and rebirth. Here Rose reunites with her old pal Bunny -- these two are played by Maleczech and Neumann, painted and costumed in white and gold like Hindu deities visiting Oaxaca for Day of the Dead -- and recalls the last few days of her life as a dog. The dog Rose is played by a Bunraku puppet (manipulated by four operators visible to the audience). Blind, incontinent, and about to be put out of her misery, Rose is rescued from the pound by Leslie, her former rival for her master's love, an ex-actress who now is a grad student at Brown in "gender ontology." Leslie, it turns out, has done her master's thesis on Rose as a contemporary stand-in for Diogenes, that philosopher from the Cynical school famous for seeking "one good man." At a vegetarian brunch in her honor thrown by Leslie's friends, Rose recalls how she honed her ideas about feminism, slavery, and the bondage of love in debate with a bovine guru named Sri Moo, who presided over an animal ashram in New Jersey. That night after being digitally delivered to a state of erotic ecstasy (i.e., finger-fucked) by Leslie, Rose drops her snout in a bowl of Dom Perignon and drowns.

That's the plot of *An Epidog*, but onstage it's nowhere near as straightforward as I've made it sound. Onstage the story is told in a pastiche of Japanese Bunraku puppet-theater, South Indian dance-theater (those retellings of *The Mahabharata* that go on for days), and Peking Opera against a four-screen backdrop featuring state-of-the-art computer-generated live animation. Doesn't it sound like a disaster in the making, a collision of too many things, another of Lee Breuer's big expensive messes? Yet I found it to be the kind of dazzling, inventive, brainy, comic spectacle that serious theater lovers get to see way too seldom. Dense with puns, self-referential mythology, and tossed-off erudition, Breuer's poetic text is undeniably hard to follow. Give it up. You don't have to get the whole story any more than you have to have watched whole seasons of *I Love Lucy* to enjoy an occasional rerun. *An Epidog* is essentially a series of free-floating set pieces, each enjoyable on its own. But real philosophical quandaries thread through this tangled structure. Given the foolish chaos of love and the elusiveness of social justice, how is it possible to live and not be cynical? Is God material or immaterial? Is love the same as desire? These questions don't apply just to monks and seekers, Breuer insists. They can also burn in the heart of a sightless, heartbroken, dying dog. And, you know, the dog is us.

The tiny stage at HERE is crammed with more staggering talent per square inch than any other in town. The puppets are designed by Julie Archer and Basil Twist, and they're directed by Barbara Pollitt, the extraordinary puppeteer who made George C. Wolfe's production of *The Tempest* fly. I laughed my head off at the sequence where Sri Moo leads a yoga class for barnyard animals (complete with headstands, tailstands, and alternate-nostril breathing). As main operator for Rose the dog, Pollitt maneuvers her charge with a subtlety that is both hilarious and breathtakingly lifelike. To watch her manipulate Rose while the honey-voiced Ruth Maleczech speaks Rose's lines into a microphone across the stage is to grasp non-Western theater in a nutshell. As in Indonesian theater, Maleczech also speaks the role of Sri Moo while Ushio Torikai supplies continuous underscoring on keyboards and Asian instruments. Among the other nimble performers, Clove Galilee (the twenty-something daughter of Breuer and Maleczech), who plays Leslie, comes into her own as a performer of exquisite simplicity and poise, useful qualities to have while finger-fucking a dying-dog puppet.

I was sorry Sarah didn't get to see *An Epidog*, but she was off lecturing to the Jewish Studies department at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I didn't lack for someone to argue about the play with, though. I got e-mail from another female friend, an esteemed theater scholar who opined, "At the level of mise en scene, Lee is doing what Lee does most -- to me -- just piling on tradition after tradition, image after image, technology after technology, to no particular point. He rips off these ancient spiritual traditions, but they are not working in him or on him. I have felt this all through *Warrior Ant*, but this......Not for me." Even more, my friend was outraged at Breuer's exploitation of the women in his life. "I feel as if Lee has turned into a dirty old man to in effect represent his past partner Ruth as a shit-caked old dog with bad teeth. I feel as if he is playing out one kind of kinky fantasy to have this old dog's young lover be Leslie -- Lee's current woman when last I heard; and another kind of really kinky fantasy to have this role played by his brilliant performer of a daughter. Mother and daughter and lover all rolled together in this death-sex male lesbian fantasy."

True, I thought it was a *little* wacky for Breuer to have his daughter play a character with his girlfriend's name who then has a steamy sex scene with a character representing her mother. And I felt a little sorry for Leslie Mohn, the girlfriend in question, who appears onstage wearing a cow's head as Sri Moo. But I didn't cringe at Maleczech's being portrayed as an old dog. However much Breuer may have wronged her in life, in art he has costumed her as a resplendent goddess and given her a role that reveals her at the height of her considerable powers.

February 7, 1996

 

“What’s Lost, What’s Not”: My Left Breast and Virgins & Other Myths

I saw two monologues this week, two extremely personal memoirs. The easier to write about by far is Susan Miller's *My Left Breast*, the Obie Award-winning playwright's chronicle of her mastectomy in 1980 and how her life reorganized itself around dealing with breast cancer. That sounds like a neatly circumscribed disease-of-the-week topic with just enough dread and piety mixed in to be acceptable, predictable, and slightly dull. Miller is a smart and observant writer, though, so the removal of her breast becomes simply a point of departure for a discourse that, in an amazingly succinct hour and five minutes, covers her whole life as "a one-breasted menopausal Jewish bisexual lesbian mom." The show is one of the highlights of Watermark Theater's WordFire Festival '96.

Miller's life and personality have made her statistically unusual as a cultural commentator. (Ask Sarah sometime how many successful out lesbian writers there are. Go ahead -- make her day.) But she has always refused to marginalize herself or represent her life as freakish. Instead her plays survey the territory common to contemporary middle-class domestic drama -- love, friendship, work, family -- with the distinction of always including a woman who both loves women sexually and enjoys the company of men. The tone of her work neither begs for acceptance nor burns with political righteousness. Her plays witness everyday life with warmth and humor, and *My Left Breast* is no exception. There's a modesty to her ambition that gets elevated by her language. She's not afraid to leap from conversational narrative to poetic density in order to reveal emotion or insight. She's not afraid to stop and sing.

One loss always constellates every other loss you've ever experienced. That's one reason why grief becomes such a disorienting spiral. *My Left Breast* rattles through the particulars of cancer life -- the diagnosis, the doctors, the drugs -- in dense fragments skillfully orchestrated and impressionistically arranged. But it's as much the story of aging, of losing children (her first child lived three hours, the second...well, you know, *grew up*), and especially the painful end of a love affair. Miller obsessively tracks her relationship with Franny trying to discover what went wrong, and along the way picks up plenty of self-knowledge, most of it not very flattering. Her self-searching is so honest that by the time she quotes the doctor who points out that, with her left breast removed, "Your heart is closer to the surface," it doesn't seem glib or pat. You feel she's earned the right to claim the truth of that statement.

Colin Martin's *Virgins & Other Myths* at Primary Stages is the sexual memoir of a younger and less seasoned man whose experience has not yet ripened into insight. *Virgins* begins with Martin being told by a doctor in his college infirmary, "You've had sex with men? We think you have AIDS." From there he goes back to childhood and walks us through the landmarks of his sexual experience, from boyhood fumblings to furtive locker-room cruising to getting picked up at a Harvard Square movie theater at 15 to the false AIDS diagnosis to coming out, fucking around, working as a callboy, and then seeking recovery as a sex addict.

Immediately after seeing the show I felt very cranky. I felt seduced and abandoned. Betrayed. Ripped off. This show presents itself as this brave and daring explicit sexual autobiography that promises some lived wisdom about gay male culture in our time. It's true that in this sex-negative culture it takes some guts to expose your erotic insides publicly -- but it's also a great way to get a lot of attention, especially if you're a needy, narcissistic, out-of-work young actor. Martin strips down to his boxers to titillate an audience packed with middle-aged gay men with his gym-sculpted body and his gossipy stories of coked-up sex-for-hire with an unnamed Hollywood bigwig -- is that really so daring? Probably some awful things happened to Martin, but many of his stories are so generic and boastful that I found myself suspecting he'd made them up. "I'm promiscuous because I was sexually abused as a child. I've had a lot of sex, and what I've learned is that it's bad to have a lot of sex." What's so daring? This is the most acceptable sexual narrative of all right now because it titillates without ever challenging the sex-negativity of still-puritan American culture.

I don't entirely trust my first impressions, though, and have had many subsequent feelings. I see that Martin is a talented performer able to create vivid characters onstage. I see that, like many young artists, he sometimes goes for easy sensationalism rather than hard choices. He impersonates the sleazy lawyer who impugns the integrity of his testimony against a high school teacher who made a pass at him, for instance, but he leaves out his own seductive behavior with the accused, and he skips the coming-out-to-your-parents scene -- the bits that would challenge his helpless-victim act.

On the other hand, my emotions are engaged because I completely identify with Martin's struggle to make meaning out of sexual experience. He asks aloud questions I ask myself, like "What's the difference between wanting to fuck someone and wanting to love someone?" Underneath the simplistic recovery-program rhetoric, he's wondering, "What other needs are we trying to fulfil through sex that can't be met that way?" He hasn't quite completed the journey from therapy to theater, but I'm willing to consider that, when it comes to the mystery of sex, that's a long and winding road.

February 14, 1996

See other NYP columns: 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-27

  
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