the few (play). joe and i saw samuel d. hunter's the whale at playwrights horizons two winters ago; we both loved it, joe to such a degree that i've been able to convince him to see all sorts of things in the intervening years (thanks, playwrights horizons!). he was all for making a night of hunter's the few, also directed by davis mccallum and now at rattlestick, an even smaller theater down in the village (a note on our tickets instructed us to use the restroom before arriving, as their only one was onstage*). the two plays are clearly blood relations: the whale centers on an online writing teacher who annihilates intimacy with his morbid obesity, and the few is a once-lyrical newspaper established to assure long-haul truckers they are seen and heard (now kept alive by an IV drip of their personal ads). writing can connect us, sure, but it's also just another way for us to lie to each other. the whale is more successful because it concentrates its anguish so effectively in one character, i think, but the few hits some of the same eerie notes—and, if we're being honest, i could look at dane laffrey's ultranaturalistic set design all day. i wish my dear jen had been in the house to geek out over grimy walls and idaho refrigerator magnets with me.
gracias madre (restaurant). my sister was kind enough to allow us to admire her newborn daughter for the better part of a week last month and to make a big old family reservation for organic/local/vegan mexican food when we were in san francisco. as when i worked at the spca hospital a few blocks away c. 2002, gracias madre's corner of the mission isn't...especially...not...sketchy, but the restaurant itself is so wholesome (our long table had a drawerful of earnest doodled notes from patrons to other patrons**) that i stopped reminiscing about crack pipe sightings almost immediately. i was also distracted by gracias madre's respectable guacamole and craft beer list, though to be fair, if you're in california and can't do those things right you should probably go to canada. other dishes ranged from marvelous (a well-spiced quesadilla with sweet potato and caramelized onion) to stand-up (pozole) to mystifying (a "queso fundido" of bread crumbs, cashews, and cauliflower). i'd love to be able to say gracias madre's kitchen is holding its own in the neighborhood, but that neighborhood makes most of the best mexican food i've ever eaten; let's say that i respect what they're doing and hope their game gets tighter. team veg has an awfully shallow bench.
little failure (book). in a world of my making gary shteyngart would have a catlike nine lives and a memoir for each. in the experimental short story i lack the attention span to write, young gary shteyngart happens upon the young fictional characters of donna tartt's the goldfinch and just beats the snot out of them. we are all of us in this world, though, and i can but say that little failure (failurchka, as shteyngart's mother calls him) is a dense and self-aware and heartbreaking memoir, and that i now feel even weirder about peeking into shteyngart's closets when joe and i were thinking about buying his apartment (i am still grateful for the faux-molding trick we borrowed for our bedroom a few months later). little asthmatic igor (gary was an anagram-ish attempt to avoid ridicule) moved with his parents from leningrad to new york in 1979; little failure offers (literal and figurative) snapshots of his early years in russia (when his grandmother bribed him with cheese to write lenin and his magical goose, a first 'novel'), scenes of extended agony at hebrew school in queens (he spoke no english and relied on sympathetic local jews for secondhand clothes), and a recipe for the funny-guy persona he cooks up to survive adolescence and adulthood. i tend to pass over memoirs in favor of biographies, but shteyngart has me reconsidering that reflex: little failure is fucking great.
mother (restaurant). our week of niece-admiration in northern california concluded with another thoughtfully-planned vegetable-based meal, this time at a buzztastic place in downtown sacramento. given how reverentially our hosts spoke about its chef, michael thiemann (formerly of ella), i figured we'd wait for a table for hours,*** but we were seated and convinced to order the ten-course chef's-choice menu in no time (in sacramento a ten-course chef's-choice menu rings in at $25 per person; WELL DONE, SACRAMENTO). our table promptly became a kaleidoscope of sexy meatlessness: chicken-fried trumpet mushrooms with buffalo sauce, deconstructed portobello poutine with a luxurious kimchi-based gravy and wildflowers, smoked baby carrots, fresh pasta with ramps and crisp fiddleheads...i should have been taking notes. thiemann isn't a vegetarian; he just gives his main ingredients the same respect he'd give an animal protein, and he has the advantage of a palate that's accustomed to animal proteins' depth of flavor. i couldn't tell you what an authentic poutine gravy tastes like, but he can, and my non-vegetarian folks loved his food as hard as i did. look this place up on your next joan-didion-themed road trip.
pliny the elder (beer). i hunt for things for a living, and in my spare time i hunts the things even more enthusiastically. pliny's sole east coast distributor is down in philadelphia, and it's scarce enough in southern california that an announcement that pliny the younger (its seasonal cousin) is on tap somewhere in los angeles generates an instant three-hour hipster queue.**** i wandered into a specialty grocer's at the san francisco ferry building when i was out west in february and found a
the realistic joneses (play). tip of the hat to esb for turning our biannual bicoastal cocktail night into an evening at the theater; we met up in hell's kitchen for a drink and a show the night after joe and i saw the few, so i was basically the fanciest girl in new york last weekend. those are weird shows to see back to back, though: will eno's writing is as stylized as hunter's is naturalistic, and it took me a few scenes to get used to his big-name cast's quippity-quipping. it's weirdly affecting absurdism, though, and michael c. hall in particular did an unexpectedly fine job of layering little gut-twists into his non sequiturs (i have yet to watch six feet under and know him primarily from dexter, a show i watched mainly because DVDs of the first three seasons materialized like pop-culture dust bunnies in our credenza). the simple plot provides comfortable digs for the non sequiturs: hall's character and his wife (marisa tomei) move to a small town and befriend their neighbors (tracy letts and toni collette). both husbands suffer from a rare, mysterious disorder that seems to complicate relationships and make conversations more exotic; both wives struggle as partners and as wearers of awkward summer-casual clothing. these pairings reminded my companions of edward albee's marriages; i'm still new to this non-shakespeare stuff and know albee primarily from a cross-stitched quote ("You have lovely breasts.") in the first new york apartment joe and i sublet, so i will simply trust them.
der samurai (film). this year's tribeca film festival revels were squashed into a single weekend, thanks to our trip to california; i try to get to at least a couple of foreign horror movies, but this year's small-town-east-german-cop-and-dress-wearing-samurai story was an only child. the screening was free for crew members, so half a dozen of the guys i'd worked with over the past few days turned up for (and hated) the movie; joe said he quite liked it and strove mightily not to fall asleep halfway through (he failed). too bad for him! till kleinert spoke in the subsequent Q&A of wanting to plant his feet in germany and make the sort of film most directors would decamp to america for; i loved that he decided to go weird and dreamy and grand-guignol in a market that doesn't yet know what to do with him. appropriately, der samurai is all about repression and release: a straightforward treatment of a young officer protecting his village from a wolf mutates into a violently romantic dreamscape in which conventional locals are "corks;" sometimes self-actualization means sabering people like champagne bottles, i guess, and you have to just submit to a tender interpretive dance with a terrifying man in a gore-spattered white gown. the movie ends up feeling like david lynch's entry in the eurovision song contest (the joyful final scene fades out to the ark's "it takes a fool to remain sane"). since joe missed so much of it we should probably see it again.
something must break (film). seating tribeca audiences is surprisingly intense: filmmakers underestimate their entourages, all-access-badgeholders descend en masse without warning, random squirrelly people lie and steal each other's seats. in my second shift this year a documentary's subject, a softspoken old art forger who donates his creations to unsuspecting museum curators, went AWOL an hour before showtime and was discovered at the last minute in a restaurant around the corner. writer/directors never show up on time with their collaborators and take the worst seats in the house, but ester martin bergsmark did; loading the house for something must break was such a breeze that i got to stay and watch the film, which was the highlight of my festival. saga becker plays sebastian, a young punk in stockholm who's fallen for andreas (performance artist iggy malmborg), who is not gay (sebastian: "neither am i.") but tells sebastian, "you're so beautiful i want to vomit." that's an understatement, really: becker's almost frighteningly lovely, like kristen stewart if she gave up and decided to be charismatic. their love scenes are somehow both graphic and chaste, and their love story's set to impeccable don't-speak-to-me-stay-with-me swedish electroclash (appropriate for a film named for a joy division song; a detractor called it a "moody soundtrack-album in search of a movie"). for this one i wish i'd had my costume-designer sister with me; she'd love how ellie, the identity sebastian initially suggests with strands of pearls, begins to become herself in pieces like a shoplifted dress. duck into this if it comes your way. it's unforgettable.
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 how do you feel about vegan "cheese"?
02 what's the best memoir you've ever read?
03 do you think merpeople have to wash with special soap before they perform in aquariums with live fish?
04 where would one go on a joan-didion-themed road trip?
05 have you had either of the plinys? do they live up to the hype for you?
06 where in our sublet would you guess the edward albee quote was hanging?
07 how do you feel about swedish music?
*everyone else ignored this note and formed a twenty-idiot line for the head anyway, so the play started fifteen minutes late. i'd have been cooler about that if i hadn't just housed my dinner like a fugitive in order to get to my seat on time.
**and a graphic designer's business card.
***happily, there was a weird merpeople bar across the street.
****i would love to mock those hipsters, but i waited several pre-dawn hours on an east side sidewalk for the comme des garçons x h&m collection a few years ago.