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Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy Open ‘Love Letters’ on Broadway: REVIEW

Love Letters Cast Collage Vertical

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

If you have any doubts that a play with two actors sitting behind a table, scripts-in-hand, can capture the imagination, you can check them at the door of Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where a charming revival of A.R. Gurney’s 1988 epistolary romance Love Letters opened Thursday night. In the hands of stage and screen vets Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow, the story of two people trading their lives in letters is sweetly engaging, often hilarious and ultimately moving (if a bit sentimental).

Love Letters2A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Gurney’s play is a draw for busy, big-name actors, given its simple format. The current revival, directed by Gregory Mosher and scheduled to run through mid-February, will welcome Carol Burnett, Angelica Houston, Alan Alda and Martin Sheen among others, with different actors rotating in every few weeks.

Andrew and Melissa begin the play as neighborhood kids exchanging short missives that sound much like passed notes in class. It’s mid-1930s New England and both are from well-off families who ship them to boarding schools. As they grow into teenagers and young adults, their relationship becomes something of an awkward long-distance romance between best friends. Melissa is precocious and artistic, often including sketches in her letters alongside complaints of how she loathes writing them. Andy, on the other hand, comes alive with pen in hand and loves nothing more than composing personal messages and to no one more than Melissa.

As correspondence between the two multiplies, the play offers a broader meditation on the nature of personal connection. Entering their college years, Andy and Melissa reach a point where they feel they know each other better on paper than in person. Replace their handwritten notes with emails, texts and OKCupid messages, and the question that sits between them has seldom seemed more relevant. How do we communicate ourselves in words, and what sort of substitute is disembodied text for proximity? Or intimacy? Also: Why hasn’t he texted me back?!

Love Letters1 Ms. Farrow brings a saucy vulnerability to her performance that’s a pleasure to watch, particularly during Melissa’s years as a flippant and often foul-mouthed teenager. A well of emotions never seems far from the surface, however tough an exterior Melissa may present in her letters—as when she makes a throwaway remark, for example, about being sexually abused by her stepfather. As Melissa grows into an increasingly hapless woman, Farrow brings a harried desperation bubbling to the surface.

Mr. Dennehy has a stalwart presence that fills the stage even as he sits still. Though necessarily less expressive in his performance than Ms. Farrow, the celebrated Broadway regular gives solid yet sensitive voice to an upstanding, openhearted and loving man with a knack for words and a candle burning for his errant companion.

While Gurney’s play is inventively simple and a joy to watch, the dusty gender norms it leans on in the end betray its age. Ultimately, it’s Melissa's life that falls apart, while Andy enjoys a successful political career and a stable family. The play’s final moments also take a self-consciously sentimental turn that teenage Melissa, particularly, would find hard to swallow. But outdated sentiments are a fixture of every old letter, and that doesn't make them any less transporting.  

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:carol rosegg)


‘Bootycandy,’ Brassy Comedy About Black, Gay Experience, Opens Off Broadway

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Of all the pet names you’ve heard used to describe your privates, “bootycandy” might be a first. As the title suggests, Robert O’Hara’s wickedly funny and provocative new play, which opened Off Broadway last week at Playwrights Horizons, is anything but demure.

Bootycandy2Through a parade of short scenes ranging from the outrageously-out-there to more intimate, but no less lively exchanges, the writer-director assembles snapshots of gay experience in a particular corner of black culture. Though plainly autobiographical, O’Hara’s play unfolds less like a linear memoir than an episode of In Living Color, with actors performing multiple characters and offbeat sidebars peppering the central coming-of-age story.

We first meet Sutter (O’Hara’s stand-in, a sensitive Phillip James Brannon) as a young fan of late ‘70s Michael Jackson—afro and all—asking his mom (Jessica Frances Dukes) the pressing, prurient questions of adolescence: Why do you call it bootycandy? Can I lick it? Mommy, what’s a blowjob? The following scene puts us in the pulpit of a pastor (Lance Coadie Williams, a master of versatility) whose riotous sermon could double as a missive from RuPaul. Next we’re in the crossfire of gossip calls between neighborhood hens (Dukes and Benja Kay Thomas) over an expectant mom choosing “Genitalia” as her future baby’s name.

Though a bit of Sutter’s story is introduced in act one (including his affair with a bi-curious friend, played by Jesse Pennington), the play’s first half is something of a sprawl. Episodes seem strung together tenuously at best, and the lack of a clear narrative might try audience patience were it not for O’Hara’s killer comedic rhythms and the company’s adeptness at nailing laughs. As it is, the play’s outer edges provide a colorful context for the playwright’s exercise in self-discovery.

Bootycandy1The second act more closely follows Sutter’s personal story, unpacking his family relationships and sexual history and tapping into his latent rage at feeling oppressed by straight norms. Weightier elements, like a teenage Sutter alerting his parents to a potential sexual predator, are balanced with O’Hara’s biting humor, often hinging on outsize black stereotypes.

A uniformly great cast breathes life into O’Hara’s medley of characters, from sassy shade-throwers to those with quieter convictions. Set and costume designs by Clint Ramos impressively juggle the play’s variety-show-speed changes between venues and personalities.

Bootycandy3Aside from a deliciously frank treatment of race and sexuality, the most daring aspects of O’Hara’s play are in its composition, including scenes that break the “fourth wall,” asking (even forcing) the audience to digest the play’s deeper implications beyond sidesplitting laughs. Thanks to O’Hara’s buoyant hand with comedy, these jarring moments of accountability go down like medicine with a spoonful of sugar.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:joan marcus)


NYC Shop Advertising 'Big Straight Ice Cream' Backs Off: 'It Doesn't Work in the West Village'

Gallonero

Gallo Nero, a NYC restaurant down the street from the West Village's well-known Big Gay Ice Cream shop, has removed a sign from its window advertising 'Big STRAIGHT Ice Cream' after it was brought to the neighborhood's and the internet's attention.

AMNY reports that the manager at Gallo Nero, which had responded earlier this week to the controversy with the statement “No statement. We are letting New York City speak on our behalf," is now speaking on the restaurant's behalf.

Says the manager now: "No, no, no more straight ice cream here. It doesn't work in the West Village. Gay and proud."


NYC Restaurant Selling Passive Aggressive "Big Straight Ice Cream" in Response to Big Gay Ice Cream

Ice creamGallo Nero, an Italian restaurant in New York City’s West Village, has begun selling a passive-aggressively flavored, “straight” ice cream seemingly in response to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop just down the street. What makes Gallo Nero’s ice cream straighter than other ice creams is unclear, but the patrons of the restaurant are certain of Gallo Nero’s homophobia.

“They have their own way, we have our own way," a manager who asked to remain anonymous told the Gothamist when asked whether Gallo Nero’s straight ice cream was a social statement. "What's the issue? We can call our ice cream whatever we want."

Partners Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff founded the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, a forerunner to the shop, in 2009. The shop, which is open to gay and straight customers alike, made a name for itself with its queer-inspired confections like the Bea Arthur, Salty Pimp, and Mermaid. When asked for comment about Gallo Nero’s advertising campaign, the shop’s official Twitter account responded: “No statement. We are letting New York City speak on our behalf.”


Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin Open On Broadway in ‘This Is Our Youth:’ REVIEW

TIOY

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

It’s hard to believe Kenneth Lonergan’s seminal comedy about a trio of wayward twentysomethings stalling to come of age in ‘80s New York, which premiered in 1996, hasn’t been on Broadway until now. But director Anna Shapiro’s fantastic, finely tuned and terrifically acted production of This Is Our Youth starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin and Tavi Gevinson, which opened last night at the Cort Theatre, was worth the wait.

TIOY1In its nearly 20-year history, Lonergan’s play has been a magnet for young stars, including Mark Ruffalo (in the original cast), Jake Gyllenhaal, Matt Damon and Anna Paquin—and its definitive portrayal of Gen X inertia is up there with cult films by Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith. The current cast comes to Broadway from a production at Chicago’s Steppenwolf theatre, with performances that do Lonergan’s quirky, emblematic characters every bit of justice.

It’s Saturday night in 1982. Warren Straub (Cera), who’s just been thrown out of his father’s house for smoking too much pot, arrives on the Upper West Side doorstep of his dealer and personal hero Dennis Ziegler (Culkin). A textbook spaz, Warren is like a small boy in the body of a young adult; he flew the coop with a suitcase holding his rare toy collection and $15,000 he stole from his dad. Dennis, a charming narcissist and high-functioning addict, uses his evolved business sense to sell drugs, works as a bike messenger by day and lives in a Manhattan studio paid for by his parents.

TIOY2The two cut an endearing figure of affluent slacker-dom, and Culkin and Cera (who did another production of the play together in Sydney in 2012) inhabit their characters’ fractious bromance with an engaging ease. Together they hatch a plan to turn a profit moving some coke, and Dennis arranges for Warren to be alone with Jessica (Ms. Gevinson), an FIT student brimming with convictions, in the hopes of getting Warren laid.

Hyper-articulate, aimless and awash in insecurities, Lonergan’s characters share a steady appetite for their next thrill—be it a strong high, sex with a near stranger or intoxicating fear. All three actors expertly craft their own brand of specific, neurotic hunger.

TIOY3The awkward vulnerability that Cera is known for on-screen works perfectly here, and Gevinson (the wunderkind fashion blogger behind Rookie, making her major theatre debut) brings a raw, frenetic energy that matches Cera spaz-for-spaz. Culkin, who’s worked previously with Lonergan on stage and screen, is perhaps most in his element, exuding the sort of alpha-stoner charisma epitomized in cult teen comedies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (released the year the play is set).

Lonergan’s story moves in mercurial fits and starts, with quiet drama, rapid escalations and big laughs cropping up around sharp corners. Shapiro does excellent work navigating the turns and developing candid, palpable connections between characters that grab our full attention.

Some two decades on, Lonergan’s title maintains (at minimum) a double meaning—the “our” of adults looking back on their own youth, or referring (with a shrug of distance) to “kids today.” That both still ring equally—and eerily—true is a testament to the play’s longevity.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos:brigitte lacombe)


NY Radio Hosts Kimberly and Beck, Who Were Fired for Transphobic Remarks, Back on the Air: VIDEO

Kimberly_beck

Kimberly and Beck, the Rochester, NY radio hosts who were fired from 98.9 'Breakfast Buzz' show after unleashing a tirade of disturbing and offensive remarks about transgender people in a 'discussion' of the city's new trans health benefits, have been hired by Clear Channel station Radio 95.1.

The radio duo apologized after being let go over the offensive segment (which you can listen to HERE), saying, in part:

We are very sorry for the hurt and pain we have caused anyone, especially those in the Transgender community and their friends and families. What we said and the manner in which we handled ourselves was wrong; we take full responsibility and we deeply apologize to any and all that we offended.

Our attempt was to discuss a controversial healthcare issue; however our lack of sensitivity and understanding of the Transgender people and their plight created 12 minutes of radio we that wish we could take back...

...It is our hope that this situation can be a time of learning and understanding about the Transgender community and not a time for additional anger and insensitivity. This is a community of individuals who struggle painfully to be themselves and find the support and comfort they deserve. We believe that this can be a chance for all of us to stop the ignorance and find our humanity."

In an announcement released today about their new show, Kimberly says:

"We took some time to reflect and kind of figure out what went sideways and we made the statement that we were sorry and made amends to the transgender community and we're just glad to be back."

Kimberly and Beck say they're doing the same kind of show they have been doing for 13 years and don't deny they might say something else that gets them in trouble.

Says Kimberly:

"Oh we'll probably say stupid things. I mean, there's no doubt. We're all human...There are things that you say that in a minute you wish you could take back. It's the nature of the business. We never intend to hurt anyone."

Adds Beck:

"It's live radio. In the area where we live, once in a while we overstep our boundaries."

Kimberly and Beck do not specify the amends they made to the trans community or how their understanding of transgender people has changed in the time since the controversy. Perhaps they will do so on their show.

Watch the duo's announcement today, AFTER THE JUMP...(warning:autoplay)

Continue reading "NY Radio Hosts Kimberly and Beck, Who Were Fired for Transphobic Remarks, Back on the Air: VIDEO" »


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