the christians (play). we continue to bask in theatrical excellence via our membership at playwrights horizons, to such a degree that i've toyed with the idea of hooking up with a second off-broadway theater (signature, as new-fangled and luxe as playwrights is scrappy, is a frontrunner). i knew the christians was about an evolution in faith—lucas hnath's letter to the audience made it clear that some heavy shit was going to go down—but i was caught off guard by how moving said shit turned out to be. it's been years since i've had a conversation with a loved one about how they won't be seeing me in heaven someday, and i'd forgotten how much they can hurt. see this with your friend's thoughtful husband who works at a megachurch! see it with your mom's awesome boyfriend who served as a missionary during the vietnam war! see it with your atheist friend who has a cross tattoo! er.
john (play). annie baker and sam gold's new production is both the best play i've seen this year and the show that convinced me that i must never attend a matinee ever again. baker won last year's pulitzer prize for the flick, an extremely long, hypernaturalistic work that enraged conservative theatergoers: that crosstalk! those uncomfortable silences! that virtual plotlessness! the pulitzer plus several high-profile, glowing reviews made her new play this summer's hot ticket in new york city but somehow failed to impress upon its prospective audiences the fact that it's more, much more, of the same. (i was counting on that; i loved the flick.) two saturdays ago, then, we spent the afternoon with an audience full of jackasses. five minutes into the first act, a cell phone went off at the end of our row; its owner pretended it wasn't hers for five rings before rummaging in her purse and shutting it off. (an hour later, her husband talked back at the action as if he was watching netflix at home: "CAN YOU IMAGINE IF I DID SOMETHING LIKE THAT?") audience members on both sides of the theater dropped and rolled heavy items down the aisles; as joe put it, it sounded like six manacled people were scattered about the theater and then slowly freed over the course of the show. i began to suspect after the second intermission that baker had actually planted terrible people in the audience to provoke people like joe and me; could off-broadway regulars at an explicitly challenging play really be that shitty? (these weren't people who rolled out of their tour buses and ended up at john because mamma mia! was sold out for the day; these tickets were difficult to come by, and i can't imagine anyone just stumbled in.) reader, they could. i checked with a few friends who'd also seen the play, and their audiences had no such fools. the bad news, then, is that our appreciation of an exceedingly fine play (which i will not spoil by describing in detail here; read the hilton als new yorker review i linked up top if you'd like to get a general sense of it that doesn't ruin any surprises) was compromised by whisperin' asshats; the good news is that joe now wants to see the flick, which is still running in the city with the original cast. WE WILL SEE IT AT NIGHT.
paulina & fran (book). full disclosure: rachel b. glaser is my friend's sister (though i didn't realize that until after i'd brought her novel home). additional disclosure: she also writes poetry and short stories and paints nba players and sort of intimidates the hell out of me, in a good way. i want to lend P&F to my sister even more than i wanted to lend her jonathan lethem's you don't love me yet—books about visual art students visual-arting are so much more interesting than books about writing students writing!—but she is a visual artist, and one never knows how that sort of loaner will land. P&F is a playful, crass, unapologetic novel about what young women inflict on one another in the name of sorority (not sororities), a frustrating love story that makes a lot of sense, and the only book i've ever read in which a secret message makes its way from one person to another on a man's buttock. its emotional math kept me up until four this morning:
"I'm sorry," Fran said, but she wasn't. She felt Gretchen was the kind of girlfriend she would be offered again and again by the adult world, the real world, but Paulina was someone truly original, someone who existed only once.i even liked the part where baby mice were dressed as characters from the wizard of oz. recommended.
piercing brightness (film). both narrative and gloriously non-, shezad dawood's first full-length film is the product of three years of on-site research in preston, a town in the northwest of england that is both the birthplace of mormonism(?!) and the uk's leader in ufo sightings. that deep-dive storytelling results in immensely satisfying texture; when i asked dawood at the post-screening q&a about his use of birds (pigeons in bus stations, pulsating airborne flocks, glamour shots of exotic breeds), he told me that the many bicycle gangs in preston use bird calls to communicate (a detail that isn't directly referenced in the movie). piercing brightness is sort of the story of the glorious 100, a group of extraterrestrials that came to earth for the mutual benefit of their kind and ours, but it's also about immigration, identity, and naturalism, whatever that is. i love smart science fiction almost as much as i love vampire movies, and this is exceedingly smart; here's to diligent listeners who let their subjects guide them.
wassail (restaurant). i have been avoiding wassail since joe told me about it a few months ago, since if a vegetarian restaurant that also specialized in obscure ciders didn't make me happy we would know for sure that there is no joy in my heart. i am deeply glad that i have stopped avoiding wassail. for my money, they have the best happy hour on the lower east side: perfect hot peanuts tossed with dried chiles de arbol and aged gouda jalapeno fritters materialized at our elbows for next to nothing, and the two cider flights on offer when we visited were refined (joe's, a variety of vintages from an upstate cidery) and satisfyingly footy (mine, a european assortment—their spanish cider was madrid in a glass, and i don't mind if my use of that expression makes you want to kick me in the face). wassail played matthew sweet, cranky old elvis costello, and the LA's; i'm tempted to start a disinformation campaign to keep its fans to a minimum and a pair of stools free for us, but a hipster meatless-vittles-and-cider-bar craze is more than fine with me.
imaginary reading group discussion questions
01 has anyone tried to convert you lately?
02 had you known of the peach basket, where poets write about basketball? why didn't you tell me?
03 why are matinee audiences so shitty?
04 have you ever owned an american girl doll?
05 how many birds can you ID by their calls?
06 where's your favorite happy hour?