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Shelly Oria’s ‘New York 1, Tel Aviv 0’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Disorientation afflicts nearly all of the characters in Shelly Oria’s nimble and disarmingly moving debut collection of stories. Many of them are (like Oria herself) Israeli immigrants in New York City, navigating multiple cultures and languages; others find themselves in worlds where the usual rules (of weather, say, or time) break down; all of them are bewildered by desire.

Newyork1telaviv0_bThe narrator of the title story has come to the United States after finishing her military service, because “staying in Tel Aviv meant starting my life,” and “It’s a scary thing, starting your life.” As is true throughout the collection, Oria is excellent in detailing how the texture of daily life differs in the two countries: “When I first moved to New York, I kept opening my purse every time I entered a building, before realizing that there was no security guard. And every time I felt relieved, and every time I felt orphaned, and every time I felt surprised at both.”

The book’s title comes from her attempt to keep score of the advantages and disadvantages of her two cities. She never gets very far: “I forget to keep track, and I have to start counting all over again every time.” She meditates on the strangeness of Central Park, “the idea of having a designated area for greenery”: “Tel Aviv isn’t carefully planned like that—trees often choose their own location, and most streets stretch in unpredictable directions, creating a pattern of impulse.”

What’s true of the streets of Tel Aviv is also true of the magnetic men and (more often) women that Oria’s protagonists can’t fully know or possess, and many of the stories are haunted by infidelity. In “This Way I Don’t Have to Be,” a woman is addicted to sleeping with married men. She watches them during sex for the moment they imagine the possibilities they’ve left unlived, when “their entire lives turn to air,” an unsettled state of longing we sense the narrator craves for herself.

In “None the Wiser,” a sly, acid, wonderful story about jealousy and age and grief, a woman’s own desires gradually become clear as she gossips about her neighbors. And in one of the collection’s standout stories, “The Disneyland of Albany,” Avner, an Israeli artist who has left his family behind to seek his career in America, discovers his wife’s infidelity from stray remarks his young daughter makes during a visit.

In the collection’s final story, which might also be its finest, “Phonetic Masterpieces of Absurdity,” the book’s preoccupation with erotic disappointment combines powerfully with one of Oria’s other major themes, the tragedies and absurdities of ongoing conflict in the Middle East—a conflict that her characters can never fully escape, at home or abroad.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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John Cameron Mitchell on Returning to 'Hedwig': INTERVIEW

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As we revealed earlier today, John Cameron Mitchell will debut in the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch on January 21, returning to the role he created Off-Broadway 15 years ago and immortalized in the cult-hit 2001 film. I spoke to Mitchell about stepping back into the show he penned with Stephen Trask, reuniting with fans and the rock-and-roll influences that shaped everyone's favorite trans glam rocker.

Naveen Kumar: What made you decide to do go into the show?

John Cameron Mitchell: Well you know, come on! The production is sitting there and I’ve certainly been thinking about it. I didn’t want to open the show, because it was just way too much pressure and time, and I could barely imagine doing it as long as the superman called Neil Patrick Harris. So, this manageable run, at a time when box office usually dips in January and before my film starts shooting next year, it was sort of a perfect slot. Certainly, it’s been in my mind that’ I’d do once more before I collapse into old age. [Laughs]

NK: So, it’s something you’ve thought about since the planning stages?

John Cameron Mitchell jcm344BW(med) by Nick VogelsonJCM: Years ago when we were thinking about Broadway, I didn’t really want to do a full run and thought maybe I could share it with someone—as they did with Fela!, because it was just so much singing and dancing. We reduced it to seven performances a week—I think Andrew Rannells did one week of eight—but no Hedwig has ever done eight and lived to tell the tale, because it’s way too hard. So, it was the enormity of it that gave me pause.

To be honest, it’s a great excuse to get in shape! [Laughs]

NK: How do you think it will be different for you this time?

JCM: Physically it will be much harder. But, the show is about finding a wholeness, and after 15 years, moving into middle age—you think about wholeness in a different way. In some ways, you are more whole, in other ways you’re more realistic about romance. The myth of ‘The Origin of Love,’ of finding a way to complete yourself—the young version of that is, ‘One person is going to complete me forever and heal the primal rift.’

And then you become a little wiser, even at the end of Hedwig, she’s alone in one way but there’s a kind of wholeness implied, because she’s been through these experiences. She’s the sum of everyone she’s met. You understand that more when you’re older, for better or worse. And, hopefully you’ve made the right choices as to who those people are. Everyone makes mistakes, and they make loving mistakes, which is really the best you can do. You make decisions based on whether you love or hate yourself.

A lot of queer people grew up feeling inferior, hating themselves from a young age, and have to heal themselves. And queer people include straight people who didn’t fit in in terms of gender, trans people, anyone. Your butch mom: She’s queer too, even if she’s straight. So, that’s the Hedwig community and it’s been built up from nothing. Of course there are Rocky Horror fans and rock fans mixed in, but we’re really different.

The people who love Hedwig love it forever, so there’s a responsibility to doing this right and being honest on stage. I’m excited about reuniting with those people—the last 15 years of their lives will inform the show as much as the last 15 years of my own, which has been very peripatetic, exciting and tragic and full. It’s going to be wiser, it’s going to be frayed. It’s not going to be as nervous as when I was a kid. I’m actually nervous about it now—but that ‘s more about how strenuous it is and keeping it together vocally and physically. It’s exciting; I need a kick in the ass right now, and there’s no bigger kick in the ass than Hedwig.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Rikers Island Jail Opening Transgender Housing Unit This Week

Rikers islandRikers Island is opening its new transgender housing wing this week for its male-to-female inmates who have yet to undergo transition surgery reports Gay City News. The news organization toured the new 30-bed facility located on the sixth floor of the jail's north infirmary command, which is not part of the jail's actual hospital. The unit is a large dormitory-style room with another smaller room complete with round tables and fixed seats where inmates can watch TV, eat or play games. Inmates have yard access and can use physical and mental health services located nearby the unit.

The jail is known for its history of unsafe conditions and documented brutality at the hands of officers. Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Planning and Programs at the Department of Correction (DOC), Erik Berliner, is assessing the safety and security of the unit.

Said Berliner:

"We are finding ways to keep people safe, giving them a place where they don’t have to worry about being themselves. This is a place that can be sensitive to them. It is the right time for it. We are reassessing everything about safety and security."

The transgender housing unit is an option offered only to transgender inmates; the inmate can voluntarily choose the unit or a unit with the rest of Rikers' 11,000 general population inmates. Berliner surveyed incoming transgender inmates, who have not had transition surgery yet, about what option they would choose. Half of those surveyed chose the new unit, and the other half chose to remain among the male inmates.

Advocates of the facility have pushed for its implementation for years. More than a 100 jail staff members received training on transgender issues by two of the advocates for the facility; Chase Strangio, himself transgender and a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, and Alisha Williams, director of prisoners’ legal services at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Strangio spoke about the unique opportunities that the training presents.

Said Strangio:

"It's an incredible opportunity to have advocates on issues impacting trans people in confinement settings to be the ones training uniformed correctional staff. The trainings represented a point of potential progress insofar as they show a commitment by leadership at DOC on meaningful training on trans issues.

"But like with all training, the culture change that is going to need to happen is going to take much more than a two-hour training could ever accomplish. So much will depend on the governing document and our hope is that the directive will permit all trans people who wish to access the unit to do so. One of the reasons why this model is important is that it is a voluntary unit. It is not one they are forced to enter. From an advocate’s perspective, that’s the only way a unit like this could work."

WireBerliner noted that one of the trainers referred to a correction officer as a "guard," which is considered a mislabelling term among corrections officers. However, Berliner felt that it proved educational to the officers as they now understand what transgender people encounter on a daily basis. Former inmate, Maria Lopez, and executive director of transgender rights group STARR is optimistic about the program.

Said Lopez:

"Like most programs that are new and innovative, it's going to take some time to work out the kinks. But I’m optimistic. This is an opportunity to work with law enforcement for a change. I’m elated.

"What is remarkable about this opportunity is that it is about more than just getting trans people jailed better but also connecting them to services. The deputy commissioner said he will do what he can to connect people to non-profits. It will save the city money in recidivism."

Berliner urges staff, inmates and advocates to continue providing input on the new facility.

 


John Cameron Mitchell to Play Broadway's 'Hedwig' in January

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John Cameron Mitchell will take over as Hedwig in the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch beginning January 21 at the Belasco Theatre, Towleroad can reveal.

Mitchell, who wrote the musical with Stephen Trask, created the role of the East German trans rocker in the show's Off-Broadway debut in 1998, and immortalized Hedwig on screen in the 2001 film he adapted, directed and starred in. His performance at the Jane Street Theatre made him into a downtown star, and the acclaimed film launched him into cult fame, earning him Best Director at Sundance and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. 

The show's creator will step in at a time when Broadway box office usually dips, giving the show a surge in sales over his eight-week run ending in March, but he said he's been considering returning to the stage since the production geared up last spring. "To be honest, it's a great excuse to get in shape," Mitchell says. "The people who love Hedwig love it forever, so there's a responsibility to doing this right and being honest on stage. I’m excited about reuniting with those people—the last 15 years of their lives will inform the show as much as the last 15 years of my own." We spoke to Mitchell about his experience writing the show, making the hit film and reentering the world of Hedwig next year.

Stay tuned for a revealing Q&A with Mitchell on Towleroad shortly....

The current Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, directed by Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot) won Best Musical Revival at this year's Tony Awards, and took home awards for its original stars Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Hall. Mitchell will take over for Michael C. Hall, who's been performing the role since October 16 and will depart on January 4. 


Alec Baldwin Offers Some Relationship Advice to Gay Couple Who Met on Grindr: WATCH

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In a new episode for the web series Love Ride, internationally recognized couples therapist Alec Baldwin serves up some relationship advice to unsuspecting couple Toby & Brian - two married New Yorkers who met on Grindr and are looking to start a family. 

Along the way, Toby & Brian share the story of how they met, reveal who is the better singer, and challenge Alec's belief that "Scruff is where you send pictures of yourself from the waist up and Grindr's where you send photos from the waist down." 

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenburg to Help Finance Proposed Massive NYC Park on Hudson River

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Diane von Furstenburg and Barry Diller will provide the bulk of financing for a $165 million dollar park proposed for the site of a crumbling pier along the Hudson River, Gothamist reports.

Writes Gothamist:

A crumbling old Hudson River pier once used by ocean liners like the Lusitania will be torn down and replaced by a 2.7 acre park on the water featuring rolling hills and an outdoor amphitheater. Mayor de Blasio is expected to reveal further details about the park at a press conference this morning, but the Hudson River Park Trust has revealed that the park will be largely financed by a foundation formed by the billionaire couple Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg.

...Von Furstenberg, the fashion designer, and Diller, the former head of Paramount Pictures and Fox, have committed $130 million to the park, with the city pledging another $17 million, and $18 million from New York State to build an esplanade to the pier park. The park will be between the pile fields of Pier 54 and Pier 56, which will remain in order to provide a fish habitat.

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The park will be erected at the end of 14th near the Meatpacking District - also Von Furstenburg's fashion headquarters (are you watching House of DVF yet?).

The park's planning is being criticized by city advocates over a "lack of transparency" according to Gothamist.  The Hudson River Park Trust’s board, the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the public will have a chance to weigh in before the project is approved.

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(gothamist via jmg)


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