IS A DAY JOB
Photo by Nathan Johnson
Starring as Christian in the hit Broaday musical Moulin Rouge!, Tviet met us backstage at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in his dressing room to talk about his career originating the roles of Gabe in the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal and of Frank Abagnale, Jr., in the musical version of Catch Me If You Can. He also won hearts as the politically-minded, ethically-compromised, risibly named Tripp van der Bilt in Gossip Girl. Tveit doesn’t like to gossip himself, but he is charmingly open and even spiritual – he has a brother who is a priest upstate where they grew up in New York – without being goody-goody. It’s why his Christian in Moulin Rouge! can harbor so much hedonism within himself and still hold steady in his grace; he’s studded with it. Indeed, Christian, as portrayed by Tviet, is a different kind of Broadway stud. So is Tviet himself. They both – star and role – stir us with a stillness all their own. And then there’s that voice.
NEW YORK CITY BALLET'S
ASSOCIATE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
EXPLAINS THE DISCIPLINED
BALLET OFFERS DANCERS
AND BALLETOMANES ALIKE
Photograph by Driu & Tiago
Photograph by Reed Davis
Photo by Jamie McCarthy
Photo from Andy’s Instagram
ARTIST TO ARTIST:
DUANE MICHALS TALKS TO ANTHONY GOICOLEA
Michals tells Goicolea about the conceptual philosophy behind his photography and art, the closed-mindedness of some in the art world, and why he considers himself an Expressionist. Above, left to right: Marlene Dietrich as une demoiselle d’Avignon by Michals, 2014; Concave by Goicolea, 2012; detail from Duane Photographs Anthony Red, 2015. Click here.
OF PRODUCER TOM KIRDAHY:
HOW HIS THEATRICAL
AND CULTURAL MISSION
CONFLATES WITH HIS
The Tony and Olivier Award winner is currently producing the Broadway productions "The Inheritance" and "Hadestown" as well as the off-Broadway revival of "Little Shop of Horrors." As an attorney, Kirdahy spent close to 20 years providing free legal services to people living with HIV/AIDS and served for many years on the Executive Committee of the NYC LGBT Center. He talks to us about what it is like to bring not only political engagement to his job during this Trump interregnum but also some joy for the latter too can be a political act in politically dark times.
PAS DE DEUX
IS MORE THAN
A BALLET TERM
In this iteration of sessumsMagazine.com, University of Southern California professor David Roman has written a four-part survey of the theatrical seasons in Los Angeles and Chicago and New York and London. I was wondering therefore how I could write about it myself. I am a a bit of a balletomane and came up with the idea to write about the pairings – pas de deux of all sorts – I saw on stages throughout last year which moved me not only on ballet stages but also in opera houses and theaters as well as on movie screens. There is more to grace than its physicality. There is an alchemic quality to the spiritual sort with which all great art, embodied ironically in the body in these instances, is blessed. It was indeed a blessing to witness such grace last year and feel the adjacent sort of grace one can feel as an audience member when one too is imbued with it simply by being in its vicinity because there is a generosity at its beating heart. The act of art in service to art is a kind of kindness.
Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan are two of my favorite actors – effortlessly cool, deeply talented, and so damn sexy – all of which came to the fore in their scenes together in director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig’s version of Little Women. Ronan told The New York Times that her nickname for Chalamet is “Pony” and there was a pony-like friskiness as they frolicked about nuzzling at each other, a freshness to their hormonic convergence. They are completely of the 21st century but they are old-school movie stars. As stars and actors, their appeal is as timeless as their style which transcends the trendiness of so many other young stars. They are here to stay.
Chalamet is, in fact, starring in playwright Amy Herzog’s two-hander 4000 Miles with Eileen Atkins at the Old Vic in London beginning in April. I am hopeful I will be able to find a ticket to the sold-out run while I am in the city this spring as I was to the sold-out pairing of Claire Foy and Matt Smith in Lungs, another two-hander at the Old Vic which I saw on my last trip to London. Foy and Smith are rightly becoming acting royalty in England. They were charming and moving in a rather slight play to which they were able to give a bit of emotional sinew with their shared presence. It will be interesting to see if Atkins and Chalamet are as attuned to each other in their pairing as Atkins was with Jonathan Pryce when I saw them give a master class in the mysteries of acting in the Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of The Height of the Storm when it transferred to Broadway from over in London.
Pryce was paired with Anthony Hopkins in the film The Two Popes which was itself about mystery and grace and finally, well, just damn great acting. Indeed, these two popes sort of reminded us that so much of faith is, in fact, acting as if one truly believes until one truly does – which is, come to think of it, what great acting is all about.
Foy and Smith are in the British tradition of other acting royalty in London, Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings. I saw Duncan and Jennings in Hansard, yet another two-hander, which was staged at the National Theatre. It was a more polite, rather toff version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and made me long to see these two as George and Martha in that Albee play.
Two-handers seemed to be a theme last year and the very best one I experienced – “saw” seems too pedestrian a description of what happened when I witnessed it on Broadway – was playwright Anthony Rapp’s The Sound Inside directed by David Cromer and starring Mary-Louise Parker and Will Hochman. It was ostensibly about a New England college professor and a student in her writing class. But it was more deeply about how we not only navigate our lives by searching out other narratives to give us signals and signposts as we meander rather mapless and alone toward whatever destination that will have us, but also, if we are blessed with the curse of creativity, how we make a map of our own narrative and become cartographers as we haul about our own human cargo. Parker always sort of gives the same performance but her brilliance is that within that performance she fits into it a completely different character each time she takes to the stage. There is a distancing technique to her acting that invites us to stand just outside her character and join her in observing the person she is conjuring. Hochman was more than her sorceress’s assistant in this production. He was also doing something rare, putting the reality of his work in service to the exalted incongruity of a play about creating narrative and not just representing real life.
There is that same sort of heightened reality to Arthur Miller’s canon. Annette Bening and Benjamin Walker playing mother and child in his All My Sons at New York’s Roundabout Theatre tore my heart out and handed it back to me a bit more healed – which is what I always seek somehow when I go to the theatre: to be healed in some sense.
Bess Wohl, one of my favorite playwrights, wrote a whole play about the process of healing in her woefully wise and beautifully constructed Make Believe at New York’s 2nd Stage. Samantha Mathis and Suzannah Flood, who played two of the siblings in this remarkable play, were actually funny while also showing us how emotionally feral their characters remained as adults.
The subversive A Strange Loop at Playwrights Horizons in New York and a new production of Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera in London were two very different musical experiences but each has stayed with me, mostly because of the pairings of Bryn Terfel and Olga Peretyatko in Don and John-Andrew Morrison and Larry Owens in Loop.
A Strange Loop and Slave Play were two of the most disturbing and profound and subversive works I saw in New York this past year about the African American experience. A Strange Loop was disquieting and queer. Slave Play was more inclusive but shot through with playwright Jeremy O. Harris’s queer sensibility as much as his fierce and singular facility with language. But there was a third play about race in America that stunned me even further, Underground Railroad Game, which I saw at Bard. Yes, another two-hander. Its creators, Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R. Sheppard, were giving two of the bravest performances I saw all year.
I live a few miles from Bard in Hudson, New York. Our local stage in Hudson Hall curates lots of different cultural offerings. The best last year arrived from Ireland’s Gare St Lazare Theatre. It was an adaption of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick by Judy Hegarty Lovett and Conor Lovett. Judy directed and Conor performed it alone except for interludes in which he shared the stage with musician Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh on his ten-string hardanger d’amore.
Another production that moved me up in this cultural neck of the New York woods – yes another two-hander – was the production at of Pollock over at PS 21 in Chatham. The Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, the Florence Gould Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Institut français-Paris, and the French Ministry of Culture were all involved in presenting the production in conjunction with the French theatre troupe l’héliotrope. That all makes it sound rather fancy but the director Paul Desveaux, l’héliotrope’s Company Director, found a grand grubbiness of the Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner personal and professional relationship that was conjoined and competitive and cauterizing. Jim Fletcher as Pollock and Michelle Stern as Krasner created the couple in this disjointed, discomfiting evening with precision and even at times, when called for, a searing messiness – much like their art itself.
It was that precise messiness that Sam Shepard could capture so thrilling in his best work, such as True West, which received a stellar production at the Roundabout in New York with Paul Dano and especially Ethan Hawke honing into that sibling characters in harrowing ways. It made me not only see the specific Shepard’ work anew but also Hawke. He was magnificent in his shaggy grandeur.
The season ended with two of the best performances of the year: Judith Ivey and Edmund Donovan playing mother and son in Greater Clements at Lincoln Center Theatre. The playwright Samuel D. Hunter is in the lineage of Shepard if the latter had read bit more Odets. Ivey reminded me that she is one of our greatest stage actresses and Donovan held his own with her and offered a performance as one I will always recall when I follow his career from now on.
I have followed Patti LuPone since I moved to New York in 1975 to attend the Juilliard School in its Drama Division there on its Lincoln Center campus. She was part of the Acting Company, a repertory troupe formed with the school’s first drama graduates. Patti was in Group One. I caught her in the production of Company in London in which she played Joanne and sang the anthem “The Ladies Who Lunch.” The production with a distaff Bobby is coming to Broadway with a different cast except for the inestimable LuPone. Bobby will be played by Katrina Lenk. In London the re-invented character was played by Rosalie Craig. She and LuPone in the bar scene before LuPone sang that anthem made famous by Elaine Stritch (see George Hodgman’s column below about Stritch) were mesmerizing in their utter stillness and in their finding new nuances as their characters engaged in ways not mined before when Bobby was a man. LuPone, of course, soared in the song but it was her stillness – the slurry stoicism of a slatternly older alcoholic recognizing herself in a younger one and grooming her for the life to come – that stirred something deep and still damaged within this recovering addict.
A more healthy addiction for me – even a spiritual one – is my love of ballet. So I will bring this letter full-circle back to the term it has all been framed around. I saw a lot of ballet this past year but the dancers who still haunt me with the beauty they manifested were Herman Cornejo and Sarah Lane in ABT’s production of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon during the company’s Metropolitan Opera stand and the Royal Ballet’s Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød and Melissa Hamilton in MacMillan’s Concerto pas de deux at the Royal Opera House in London.
I find recognition and a kind of riled excitement at times when theatre is gaining artistic traction before me, but I often surrender to a heightened solace when in ballet’s presence. I also find inspiration in the stamina and focus and discipline it requires and try to interpret that in ways in my own life. I also prefer abstract ballets such as Concerto to story ballets, although Manon is the exception that I consider a work of genius. I have tried to understand that difference in my appreciation. I think it is because I just find abstract ballets more spiritual. We as humans conceptualize our longing for spirituality – for the very concept of God – around a characteristic that separates us from other members of the natural world: our ability to create narrative around language, the codification of that which can’t really be codified. We create narrative around the spiritual realm when I think we are more basically its narrative as it acknowledges its benevolence toward us lesser beings made of flesh and limited human thought. There is an errant arrogance to such human thinking in that we, yes, think we can define the spiritual realm with human narrative. I think I surrender to abstract ballets because they are all about structure and order and discipline and heightened patterns and, yes, grace, without the need for narrative. They just exist within the realm of transcendence
And yet narrative is needed. I need it. Thus my love for theatre and the artists who create it. And thus this letter from me that codifies in language my need for language. Theatre is, for me, about a narrative of need – for that is what art is for so many of us, the acknowledgment of need, the nurturing of it, that need to know ourselves, to see, to be seen, the need to be more firmly grounded here beneath the transcendence, we groundlings who jostle and grapple with an attuned attentiveness and the fervor of an aficionado who feels too damn much until the too-damn-much is delineated by art but never quite defined. The definition is left to us to conjure. That’s our part in all of this. The artists are too busy conjuring the art.
(Credits, left, top to bottom. Chalamet & Ronan by Collier Schorr; Cornejo & Lane; Hopkins and Pryce by Jay L. Clendenin; Atkins and Pryce by Joan Marcus; Hochman and Parker by Joseph Marzullo; Smith and Foy by Helen Maybanks; Flood and Mathis by Joan Marcus; Morrison and Owens by Joan Marcus; Jennings and Duncan by Catherine Ashmore; Bening and Walker by Sara Krulwich; Peretyatko and Terfel by Clive Barda; Sheppard and Kidwell by Tamara Rodriguez; O’Raghallaigh and Lovett by JD Urban; Hawke and Dano by Joan Marcus; Fletcher and Stern by Laurent Schneegans; LuPone and Craig by Tristram Kenton; Donovan and Ivey by Jeremy Daniel; Brændsrød and Hamilton by Alistair Muir.)
Héloïse and Marianne. "Portrait of a Lady on Fire." On an isolated island in Brittany. 1760
STARS IN BLACK TURTLENECKS
Céline Sciamma, director and screenwriter of "Portrait of a Lady on Fire."
Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, stars of "Portrait of a Lady on Fire."
IN THE COMING WEEKS ...
Laura Linney. Judith Light. Cara Buono. Ellen Barkin. Annette Bening. Jane Fonda. Parker Posey. Style icon and photographer Lisa Eisner. Producer Tom Kirdahy. Aaron Tveit. Ato Blankson-Wood. James Cusati-Moyer. Duane Michals. John Waters. Alan Cumming. And countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo
Ocean photographed by Collier Schorr
Vuong photographed by Bjarne x Takata
THE DAILY DIVE
HERE ARE MY DAILY POSTS ABOUT POLITICS AND CULTURE. AND MY META-MEMOIR. SMALL-TOWN HUDSON. SMALL-TOWN NEW YORK. SMALL-TOWN LONDON. THIS IS WHERE WE ARE ALL A SMALL TOWN TOGETHER. WELCOME TO SESSUMSMAGAZINE.COM'S NEWEST FEATURE.
A WOKE THEATRE AWAKENS: PART ONE
USC professor David Roman takes us on a tour of last year’s theatre scene in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., and London. Left: an image from Steppenwolf’s Ms. Blakk for President.
A WOKE THEATRE AWAKENS: PART THREE
In this installment, Roman highlights many of the performances he witnessed in 2019, including (left) counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten at the Met.
A WOKE THEATRE AWAKENS: PART TWO
Professor Roman continues his survey by writing about director David Cromer, playwright Adam Rapp, and (left) playwright, composer and lyricist Michael. R. Jackson
A WOKE THEATRE AWAKENS: PART FOUR
Professor Roman wraps up his rundown with playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis and the Atlantic Theatre production of his latest work, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven, which he hails as the best play and best production of 2019. Left, Sean Carvajal and Esteban Andres Cruz in a scene from the play.