BY NAVEEN KUMAR
The true nature of art, the steadfastness of love, the inevitability of death—this is the stuff of great opera, and the same lofty stuff that Terrence McNally’s play The Golden Age, which made its New York premiere Off-Broadway this week at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I, struggles to lay bare — just without all the beautiful music.
Set backstage on opening night of Vincenzo Bellini’s 1835 opera I Puritani in Paris, the play attempts to tackle in plain spoken contemporary words the sort of operatic stakes about which Bellini’s characters sing on stage out of sight. It’s a tall order, even for a gifted veteran of the American theatre like McNally, known for (among other things) his insightful dramas centered upon gay experience, homophobia and the AIDS crisis (Lips Together, Teeth Apart; Love! Valour! Compassion!), and acclaimed plays about opera and opera divas (The Lisbon Traviata, Master Class).
Despite assembling a top notch cast, including stalwarts of the stage Bebe Neuwirth and an underused F. Murray Abraham, McNally’s latest treatment of somewhat familiar territory falls short of offering insight on any of the various broad-stroke themes it has in its sights.
The always charming Lee Pace (Lincoln, The Normal Heart) has the whirlwind task of playing young artist Bellini—pacing, fretting and waxing poetically through the trial of a composer milling backstage during his opera’s opening night. Pace commits fully to his tireless performance of an artist consumed. Equally arrogant and insecure, Bellini becomes McNally’s resident voice of artistic authority, voicing passionate theories about art, artistic integrity and the nature of creativity. Trouble arises as we are constantly led to draw comparisons between the playwright’s work and his character’s best laid ideas about art. “The highest art should be un-performable,” Bellini says. “What they call art is artifice. What I call art is free, as wild as unmanageable as life itself. Away with structure. Only feeling matters.”
Under the serviceable though staid direction of Walter Bobbie (Venus in Fur), McNally’s play soars to no such heights. Propped up between structures—of the opera being performed off-stage and the historical characters upon which Golden Age is based—much of the drama deals in artifice and ego, without scratching beneath the surface of caricature.
Though Bellini and his cast of characters (and lovers) are based on people who lived and breathed, whether the audience is familiar with the world of nineteenth century opera or not, the play provides precious little help for understanding much about these players beyond their vocal range and professional rivalries. As Francesco Florimo, Bellini’s young patron and male lover, Will Rogers (The Public’s As You Like It) stands out as the most affecting corner of the central love triangle that also include’s Neuwirth’s Maria Malibran. Rogers brings a tender emotional shading to the role mostly missing from the rest of the play.
Much of the evening’s humor comes in the form of insider opera jokes and racial-ethnic stereotypes bandied between Europeans — generalizations based on nationality where specifics about characters would be helpful. Bits of bawdy physical humor crop up throughout, mostly thanks to the baritone (Lorenzo Pisoni) who uses fruit and vegetables to enhance the bulge in his pants. Consistent with the rest of the period drama clichés at work, a nineteenth century cough in the first act reveals itself as a sign of fatal illness by the second, in the form of a bloody handkerchief. The spotted rag of course belongs to Bellini, whose premature death at the age of 33 hangs over the evening lending ominous shadows to much theorizing about the nature of art and immortality. Ultimately, McNally provides little by way of revelation on this front—Bellini’s opera indeed lives on, and actors and audience alike listen wistfully to unseen snippets. If only a little of its artistry were in the room at City Center.
Naveen Kumar is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has spent close to ten years working in the New York theatre world and recently earned a masters degree in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. Starting today, Naveen will be contributing reviews, interviews, and other items of interest related to theatre for Towleroad.
"I am in favor of gay marriage because I'm a massive supporter of marriage and I don't want gay people to be excluded from a great institution," British Prime Minister David Cameron told Channel 4 News, adding that religious institutions would in no way be forced to perform same-sex marriages should that be against their beliefs.
Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...
The Evening Standard adds that Cameron's push begins next week:
Organisations that reject gay marriage, such as the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, will have legal protection from being forced to host ceremonies against their wishes, the Prime Minister will pledge.
Tory MPs will have a free vote on a Bill next year, while Labour MPs will be whipped in favour.
It means all three party leaders now support a historic equality reform that would once have seemed incredible — that homosexual partners can have the same civil marriage rights as heterosexual couples and even get married in a religious setting. But some Conservatives said there would be “outrage” and warned that the Tories would haemorrhage members.
Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...
The OXD Mirror is a weekly music column brought to you by the boys of OCCUPY THE DISCO (OXD), a New York City based movement created by three music lovers, Ru Bhatt, Josh Appelbaum, and Tadeu Magalhães, who want to share their love for disco, house and dance music with the world.
I first discovered the Chromatics when I heard their version of Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill' and I was instantly in love with their dark disco-infused aesthetic. Following their latest album, Kill For Love, which was released earlier this year, the Portland-based group has contributed a brand new track to the second edition of the After Dark compilation, curated by one of the band members, Johnny Jewel. 'Cherry,' an 80's post-disco song with sweet vocals and beautiful bass, is just tender enough to listen to after a fun night out dancing.
My obsession with the Munich-based Portuguese producer Moullinex grows with every spin of his new album, Flora. Though it was released only a little over a month ago, Moullinex has announced he has a new EP coming out by the end of this month. Flora Club Versions comes packed with re-works of some of the tracks in the debut LP as well as a brand new song that blew my mind at first listen. This new track, 'Fauna,' carries a complementary theme to his recently released album, and is filled with distorted sounds of all sorts of animals, including birds, monkeys, elephants, and anything else you can think of. As weird as it may sound, it all comes together in a very well done track that surprisingly might become the next big dance floor filler.
A.N.D.Y. feat. Nyemiah Supreme: 'Pump It Up'
Belgium is increasingly providing the world with some of the best house music producers. Joining big names like Aeroplane and The Magician, Andy Faisca a.k.a. A.N.D.Y. is another artist to keep an eye on. Apart from having a very popular series of mixtapes, A.N.D.Y. produced a couple of his original tracks and several great remixes. His latest original work, 'Pump It Up,' is a collaboration with R&B vocalist Nyemiah Supreme and does an amazing job capturing the 90's house revival that has been going on recently. The boys of OXD are big fans of the 'golden era' of 90's house music, so we are all hotly anticipating what A.N.D.Y. does next.
CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...
Stereogamous feat. Shaun J. Wright: 'Face Love Anew'
Stereogamous has built a solid name in the dance scene by remixing big artists such as Kylie Minogue, LCD Soundsystem, Sia and Sam Sparro in the past couple years. The openly gay Australian duo finally ventured into their first original release, with their new track 'Face Love Anew,' out only on vinyl at the moment (digital release to follow next week). This powerful debut track relies on the vocal work of Shaun J. Wright, whose voice you might recognize from the latest Hercules And Love Affair album, Blue Songs. 'Face Love Anew' (listen to the full version here) is an extremely sophisticated house music track that immerses us in deep hypnotic sounds and Wright's chants for the initial 5 minutes, before finally bursting into one of the most beautiful melodies I have heard this year; the experience is comparable to watching a movie with an amazing twist ending. All 7:33 of this song are impactful and not to be missed.
Jonas Rathsman: 'W4W'
Gothenburg-based producer Jonas Rathsman is one of the talented members of the house music label French Express, alongside Perseus, Chris Malinchak, Moon Boots and Isaac Tichauer – all of which have been featured on the OXD Mirror in previous editions. Rathsman has re-worked tracks by The Magician in the past and his productions have been constantly featured in The Magician's famed Magic Tapes. His latest release, 'W4W,' a lovely piano-driven deep house track, has an optimistic mood that will easily get the attention of some happy house-loving souls out there.
Tonight in NYC: French Express Tour @Brooklyn Bowl
Jonas Rathsman and two other French Express "knights," Chris Malinchak and Moon Boots, are taking over the decks at Brooklyn Bowl tonight for the French Express Tour. If you are in NYC, we highly encourage you to invite friends and join us for a night full of dancing and great new music with three of our favorite DJs. RSVP on our Facebook page, and check our website for more information.
This week's post was written and curated by Tadeu Magalhães.
The photo was taken in the presidential suite of the Fairmont Millennium Park hotel in Chicago, where Obama and his team watched results come in on November 6. In his concession speech, Romney said that on the call with the president, he wished Obama well, along with his family and staff.
(via political ticker)
As parliament mulls the so-called "kill the gays" bill, a Ugandan tabloid has amped up the moral outrage against gays by printing a series of photos of the head of the Ugandan Cranes football team allegedly "sodomizing" a player, Gay Star News reports:
The photos detailed the alleged sexual acts with captions designed to outrage the country’s conservative population: ‘MASTER AT WORK: Mubiru nails the boys butt’, ‘shafting’ and ‘hurting the boy’, to finally ‘END GAME: The boy struggles to stand up after the bum shattering session.’
The alleged ‘young player’ was not identified nor could the validity of the pictures be ascertained.
No statement has been issued by the Crane’s football team at the time of publishing this story.
Speaking with Gay Star News, Denis Nizoka, editor of Identity Kenya said: ‘This was clearly designed to provoke a moral outrage about what is seen as a bastion of male sportsmanship – the country’s top football team.'
This is the same tabloid which in 2006 published a list of names of alleged homosexuals.
Last week, a federal judge in Nevada ruled against Lambda Legal's challenge to the state's ban on the freedom to marry in a case called Sevcik v. Sandoval (Ms. Sevcik, with her partner, Mary Baranovich (both at right), are among several plaintiffs in the case). This week, the anti-gay supporters of marriage discrimination asked the U.S. Supreme Court to bypass the Ninth Circuit and immediately take the case and, ultimately, uphold the marriage ban. This wrinkle comes as we wait to hear about several challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a case trying to stop Arizona Governor Jan Brewer from discriminating against gay state employees, and the federal challenge to California's Prop 8, all of which are under the Court's active consideration for writs of certiorari.
Lest we miss the forest for the trees, consider for a moment the historic significance of having so many gay rights cases dealing with no less than four gay rights laws at the Supreme Court at the same time. And, consider too that the venerable gay rights organization, Lambda Legal, has brought the latest Nevada case, a couple of the DOMA cases, and the Arizona case. These are indeed interesting times and great times to be gay.
But, as to the Nevada case, there is only one way to describe this decision: delusional.
As we all know, in an equal protection and due process challenge to a ban on the freedom to marry, proponents of the law are asked to justify the law on some level of scrutiny. For now, we use a form of rational basis called "rational basis plus." That's the first thing Judge Robert Jones got wrong: He ignored Romer, Lawrence, and binding and persuasive precedent to use the absolute lowest form of scrutiny: any conceivable, good faith basis. That was the same absurdly low standard Judge Randy Smith used in his dissent in Perry v. Brown.
Then Judge Jones made the jump from wrong to delusion. He based his entire decision on the ludicrous notion that a "meaningful percentage of heterosexual persons" will flee or avoid the institution of marriage if gay people start marrying the persons they love. Not only is that silly, we know it is not true from extensive empirical evidence ever since Massachusetts legalized marriage for all back in 2004. The decision also reflects the groundless private biases of a particularly irascible, anti-gay judge, and we know that bald hate and an overt desire to discriminate could never be a legitimate basis for a law.
I have no doubt that cooler heads will prevail above. The Nevada case suffered from the judge's inelastic and misguided decisions on not hearing evidence and his personal prejudices. But a great haze sweeps into the picture when you consider its effects on the Supreme Court's upcoming decisions on granting or denying hearings in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases.
I consider this problem from a legal, political, and strategic standpoint, AFTER THE JUMP...We all have been waiting for some time for the Supreme Court to give us news about which cases, if any, it plans to hear with respect to DOMA, Prop 8, and benefits discrimination in Arizona. We have been waiting a while, as we discussed last week. But, there are several legitimate reasons why we haven't heard anything just yet.
1. Many issues: Some cases take more than one conference to discuss, especially when the cases involve several wrinkles like Justice Kagan's possible recusal, the need to address the level of scrutiny on anti-gay discrimination, and the opportunity to take several cases (but which ones?) at the same time.
2. Strategy: Some justices might be trying to maneuver the Court toward taking one case, but not others, and before anyone votes, the justices want to work their colleagues to make sure they can win. This matters a lot. Many gay rights advocates believe that it would be better if the Court took the DOMA cases before the Prop 8 case and that otherwise, a conservative Supreme Court would have the opportunity to set us back decades. So, the justices might be trying to ensure the outcome they feel is best for their position.
3. Timing: The justices are not oblivious to the cases coming up through proper channels and there could be a justice or two interested in waiting for a case like the Nevada marriage case to get to One First Street.
Here is where the picture becomes more complicated. Many of us see it as a foregone conclusion that the Court will take some iteration of the DOMA cases. It has to: there is a split among the circuits on scrutiny, an act of Congress has been struck down by several federal appellate courts, and we cannot have DOMA be the law of the land in some areas and not others. But, there really is not a time frame on when the Court has to take the case. We wanted the justices to order a hearing on DOMA as soon as possible not only because every day that it exists is another day that harms same-sex couples, but also because we didn't want the picture clouded by controversies surrounding underlying marriage law.
Now, the Nevada case gives the Court a cleaner case that deals directly with the freedom to marry. I say "cleaner" because it doesn't have the unique procedural history of the Prop 8 case, which, if you recall, emerged as a challenge to an initiative-passed constitutional amendment that took away marriage rights previously granted. The Ninth Circuit's decision affirming that Prop 8 is unconstitutional made that unique history -- the taking away of rights -- an essential part of the reason why Prop 8 had to go.
The Nevada case has none of that special baggage. It is a simple ban on the freedom to marry. Though we cannot be certain, a Supreme Court decision in this case could implicate every other state ban on marriage freedom. Some might think that's a good thing: A potential victory in one swipe of the pen. Others worry that the nation -- and the Court -- are not ready. Even our liberal lions like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a women's rights pioneer, has spoken about Roe v. Wade, questioned its theoretical underpinnings, and warned of going too far too quickly and risking backlash.
What's more, pro marriage freedom forces lost in the Nevada case at the district court, which distinguishes it from the Prop 8 case and the several DOMA cases. This distinction is significant. Take a random sample of federal cases over the last decade and the vast majority of district court decisions are upheld on appeal. There are many institutional, political, and legitimate reasons for this, but there is no doubt that it is easier to uphold a judge's decision than reject it. I spoke about this over two years ago when Judge Vaughn Walker issued his detailed opinion declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. The phenomenon works both ways.
And, so we have a marriage case from Nevada that may complicate all three of the above reasons: multiplicity of issues, strategy, and timing. The justices may be asking: Should we wait for Sevcik to go through the Ninth Circuit? Should we wait for a Ninth Circuit ruling before we hear any of these gay rights cases? Should we hear Sevcik or Hollingsworth (the Prop 8 case)? Do we hold off on both marriage cases or delay Prop 8 and take Sevcik? Or, the other way around? And, so on and so forth.
Don't get too worried, though. The Court is generally loathe to take cases out of their normal course, and the Nevada case is out of the normal course. The anti-gay forces have asked the Supreme Court to bypass the Ninth Circuit because they want to bypass a notoriously left-leaning appellate bench. That makes strategic sense from their perspective, but it makes it less likely (though by no means impossible) that the Supreme Court will bite. Plus, the Nevada case has nothing to do with the undeniable merit of taking the DOMA cases in some form. This country and this Court are ready to eviscerate DOMA and no delusional conservative judge is going to stop that.
Ari Ezra Waldman teaches at Brooklyn Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. His research focuses on technology, privacy, speech, and gay rights. Ari will be writing weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.
Follow Ari on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman.