The world might not have ended on May 21, but hints of the apocalypse are all over the theater district. Take Exhibit A, from the Schoenfeld Theater:
Sometimes it’s best to let powerful work speak for itself. The Broadway revival of “The Normal Heart” is one such instance: At the risk of trivializing this extraordinary production, all I’ll say is, go see it!
But some words from the playwright will do. Check out a letter from Larry Kramer, below, that’s handed out after the show. Its sense of passionate rage lives in every second of “The Normal Heart,” Kramer’s 1985 play about the AIDS crisis.
To the Motherfucker With the Phone,
Hello! You don’t know me, but I was behind you last week at “The Motherfucker With the Hat.”
Cool play, huh? I’m curious – what brought you to the show – was it Chris Rock? The titular “motherfucker”? Or are you just really into the Tony Awards?
I ask because you seemed pretty preoccupied by your oh-so-aggressively incandescent phone throughout the show, texting, tweeting, flickring, linkedin-ing, blogging, and myspacing at every uncouth moment. (That is, constantly.) What was so urgent?
A particular passage struck me on a return visit to “Arcadia.” When a pupil mourns the ancient Library of Alexandria (“Can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! … How can we sleep for grief?”), her tutor gives this response:
“We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.” In other words, we move through life picking up the leftovers of those before us, struggling to carry our meager arms’ worth, but always dropping bits for those to come. This, the living dialogue between past and present, is “Arcadia’s” most vibrant and moving theme. (It’s also fodder for the time-split poster.)
In his monumental books, the brilliant Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk carefully draws a world that both screams for political action and aches for a beautiful, melancholic past. It’s a furious, self-aware kind of nostalgia that seeps into every nook and cranny of his tight, Nobel-winning prose.
“Snow,” one of Pamuk’s more recent novels, is no exception to this rule: a provincial Turkish town’s civic disaster (Muslim girls are hanging themselves) is played in vivid counterpoint to a poet’s delicate journey to enlightenment. It’s a searing story that has made Pamuk (already a controversial figure) even more divisive in his homeland.
A high point of Broadway’s “Catch Me if You Can” is the sweet, catchy tune “Seven Wonders.” Aaron Tveit and Kerry Butler are tangled in hospital sheets, and Tveit woos Butler with this jet-setting ballad (jump to 1:50):
Did you catch Tveit’s little intro? “It’s kind of a country tune, if you can imagine that.” There’s a bit of swing, some softhearted lyrics, and a sturdy home fixation. (Beautifully accompanied onstage at the Neil Simon, “Seven Wonders” has even more of that percussive, catchy twang than this tiny YouTube clip.)
We shouldn’t be so surprised: showtunes and country music have a lot in common. For one, they’re scorned cousins of pop music, often mocked for their emotional, narrative content. Also, and unlike contemporary club music, they wear their hearts on their sleeves. (Katy Perry can smirk her way through “California Girls,” but that contempt would quickly wheeze and die in a theater or country song.)
Young Jean Lee’s just-closed cabaret at Joe’s Pub ends with the simple, comforting song “We’re Gonna Die.” (It’s also the name of the show.)
We’re gonna die
We’re gonna die someday
Then we’ll be gone
And it’ll be ok (Listen to the song here)
Lee isn’t the slightest bit ironic or sardonic – the evening’s jumble of stories and songs exists, she tells us upfront, to generate some kind of collective comfort to suffering, to make private unhappiness a public, unifying bond. Lee’s message is delivered in a refreshingly heartfelt, anti-arch way. It’s like a good backrub: “it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.”