DAILY: May 22, 2019


(1) Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Cannes at the premiere of Quentin Tarrantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  They are true movie stars and un-Cannes-ily handsome – or Cannes-ily so, I guess.  They are sort of unsexy finally in that too-sexy movie star way.  I want to know who the guy is behind them.  He’s the sexy guy in the photo to me.

Here is the Hollywood Reporter review of the film.  David Rooney writes, “Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play a fading action star and his inseparable stunt double in Quentin Tarantino’s freewheeling trip through 1969 Tinseltown at the time of the Manson murders.

“Quentin Tarantino renews his vows as a devout fanboy, rifling through his formative influences in vintage American B-movies and TV, spaghetti Westerns, martial arts, popular music and an endless assortment of cultural ephemera in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In his ninth feature, the writer-director at the same time is having sly fun riffing on his own work, in particular his penchant for gleeful revisionist history. A sizeable audience will doubtless share that enjoyment, even if the two ambling hours of detours, recaps and diversions that precede the standard climactic explosion of graphic violence are virtually plotless. …

“Running parallel to Rick and Cliff’s story are glimpses into the more glamorous lives of Rick’s Cielo Drive neighbors, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), whose proximity only makes Rick’s exclusion from the New Hollywood club sting more. At a Playboy Mansion party, while Sharon dances with Michelle Phillips and Mama Cass, Damian Lewis drops by as Steve McQueen to explain that Sharon’s ex-fiance, hairdresser Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch), remains in the picture waiting for Polanski to screw up the marriage.

“Then there are the clusters of female Manson family acolytes, either dumpster-diving for food or hanging out on street corners to give tourists a thrill. Rick dismisses them as hippie trash, while Cliff is more intrigued, particularly by a flirty nymph in a crochet halter top and denim cutoffs named Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley in a performance of insouciant sexual authority.”


Karen Heller writes of the city’s many problems in the Washington Post.

Photo by Ray Chavez

 A Tuesday afternoon in the Mission District of America’s tech wonderland.

Michael Feno stands outside Lucca Ravioli, his beloved pasta emporium on Valencia, a vestige of old San Francisco, puffing on a cigar while posing for pictures, his customers in tears.

Living in this city’s radically shifting landscape, veterinarian Gina Henriksen found comfort by telling herself, “Thank God, Lucca is still here. If Lucca goes, I’m going to have to leave San Francisco. What do we have left?”

Lucca is no longer here.

After 94 years, doors shuttered on the last day of April. The parking lot sold for $3.5 million. A three-building parcel, including the store, listed for $8.3 million and was purchased by — need you inquire? — a developer.

A few blocks away, in this neighborhood of shops hawking $2,600 electric bikes and $8 lemonade, Borderlands Cafe — a throwback with plants cascading from the ceiling — closed the same day after a decade in business.

Owner Alan Beatts couldn’t retain staff, even with a $15 minimum hourly wage. Who can live on $15 an hour in this city transformed by innovation?

How can Alba Guerra, co-owner of nearby Sun Rise restaurant, continue to charge $10.95 for the housemade vegan chorizo platter after her rent spiked 62 percent last year to $7,800 a month?

For decades, this coruscating city of hills, bordered by water on three sides, was a beloved haven for reinvention, a refuge for immigrants, bohemians, artists and outcasts. It was the great American romantic city, the Paris of the West.

No longer. In a time of scarce consensus, everyone agrees that something has rotted in San Francisco.

Conservatives have long loathed it as the axis of liberal politics and political correctness, but now progressives are carping, too. They mourn it for what has been lost, a city that long welcomed everyone and has been altered by an earthquake of wealth. It is a place that people disparage constantly, especially residents.


(3)  The New York Times features the photography of Eudora Welty in its LENS rubric.  There is a curated gallery of her images from 1930s Mississippi and an appreciation by Matthew Sedacca.

“I was taking photographs of human beings because they were real life and they were there in front of me and that was the reality,” Ms. Welty said. “I was the recorder of it. I wasn’t trying to exhort the public.”

Delegate, Jackson, Miss. 1938.CreditEudora Welty/Eudora Welty LLC, courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History

“Some perception of the world and some habit of observation shaded into the other,” Ms. Welty said about her dual passions, “just because in both cases, writing and photography, you were trying to portray what you saw, and truthfully. Portray life, living people, as you saw them. And a camera could catch that fleeting moment, which is what a short story, in all its depth, tries to do.”

Blind weaver, Oktibbeha County, Miss. 1930s.CreditEudora Welty/Eudora Welty LLC, courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Carrying the ice for Sunday dinner, near Bolton, Miss. 1930s.CreditEudora Welty/Eudora Welty LLC, courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History

For the full gallery of curated images and the column by Matthew Sedacca click here.

Follow @nytimesphoto and @matthewsedacca


May in The Waverly Gallery photographed by Brigitte Lacombe


The director and actor writes in the Hollywood Reporter about his experience appearing in Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery with the “Logic Nazi,” as May told her fellow cast mates what some of her oldest friends use as a nickname for her.

Elaine May and Scott Rudin live in the same apartment building. Elaine’s apartment does not have a garbage disposal and Scott’s apartment does have a garbage disposal. The story goes that while director Lila Neugebauer and Scott, the producer, were casting the Broadway revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery, Elaine ran into Scott near the elevators in their building and said, “If you can get a garbage disposal installed in my apartment I’ll do the show.”

Presumably the deal went through because Elaine May returned to act on Broadway for the first time since 1961 in a blisteringly raw, truthful, savage, hilarious and heartbreaking performance and I got to act with her. I’ll try to tell you what it was like.

(Spoiler alert: It was fucking awesome.)

When we started rehearsals I had a lot of unfair expectations. I expected her to be funny (she is effortlessly witty and truthful at all times) and a raconteur (she will be happy to tell a casually brilliant story about the other geniuses and giants with whom she’s worked, if you ask) and I knew she was a transformative performer (YouTube Elaine May and I’ll see you in about four hours) and I figured she’d give some sort of capital P Performance.

But my expectations are no one else’s problem, so I was also prepared for the possibility that she’d show up late, leave early, chew up rehearsal time like a Hastings refrigerator chews up fan belts, face front the whole time, and have her lines fed through an earpiece — but at least I’d get to meet Bill Murray.

Cromer in The Waverly Gallery. Photographed by Brigitte Lacombe

None of that turned out to be true except I did get to meet Bill Murray. Twice. Because he came to see the show a second time and we all stood around backstage after a Saturday matinee and spoke in hushed tones about Elaine while she was off having dinner.

Elaine played Gladys Green, a character based on Kenneth Lonergan’s grandmother, who takes the long walk from vibrancy to dementia. I flatter myself that I know a thing or two about actors rehearsing and it’s not news that Elaine has one of the greatest, fastest minds in writing/acting/directing/producing/improvising (and whatever the hell else she does) but watching her learn and rehearse this role was a re-education in the relentless and rigorous exploration of why and how every moment connects to every other moment (she mentioned that she is sometimes referred to as the Logic Nazi), a re-education in absolute truthfulness, in utter faith in the principles of true ensemble work, and finally living in the risky, raw, terrified, furious world of Gladys’ fading mind.

First, the role is nearly impossible to learn, endlessly looping through subtly varying repetitions of four or five of Gladys’ preoccupations that devolve as the dementia worsens. Every one of these sets off a series of carefully escalating responses in other characters, Joan Allen (masterful) as her conflicted daughter, Lucas Hedges (all he’s cracked up to be) as her grandson, Michael Cera (a brilliant craftsman) as a young artist showing in the Waverly Gallery, and me as her son-in-law (not bad). Gladys’ disintegration and her family’s responses are the spine of Kenny’s beautiful play but it’s built around a swirling mass of Gladys’ words. Elaine built strong logic into the seeming illogic (“This is as close to hell as I ever want to get,” she said one day, with her sly half smile, as she slogged through another harrowing maze of words). The structure she built within Kenny’s in turn made our actions virtually inevitable.

I speculate that her innate sense of responsibility to the play and the ensemble come from her formative years at the University of Chicago and the formation of Playwrights Theatre Club, which begat Compass Players, which became Second City, which brought her and Mike Nichols to national prominence, which brought her to Broadway’s Golden Theatre in 1960-61, which brought her (after a while) back to the Golden in The Waverly Gallery last fall.

There is nothing gooey or sentimental about Elaine’s generosity as an artist. It seems merely to be the most efficient way to create the greatest possible truth. These are principles I was raised around in the Chicago theater community but to see one of the founders of these principles in action reanimated me in ways I’m still processing.

Next comes the crying. The stage directions in Waverly repeatedly instruct Gladys to burst into tears as her condition worsens and the fear and frustration overwhelm her. It is always a challenge when a script requires this at specific moments. There are actors who excel at this, there are actors who aren’t predisposed to this. I would never claim to know Elaine well (she is preternaturally mysterious) but she seemed to fall into the second category and it was the only time I saw her struggle. Once, when she and Lila were discussing one of these moments, Elaine said — with a guardedness I hadn’t seen yet: “I’m worried I’m not a good enough actress to do that.” Lila immediately explained (beautifully) why the actual outcome of tears was unnecessary, but I believe I got to witness a light go on in Elaine’s mind. I (again) speculate that saying it out loud served as a kind of personal challenge. Soon, as we moved through tech and into previews, I began to be ripped apart by Gladys’ breakdowns. “I’m not a good enough actress to do that” seemingly would not stand.

What followed was rigorously structural work, which then exploded into raw, feral fear, and rage and panic and sorrow.

Is this common in Elaine’s work? I don’t know. There aren’t many examples on film of this kind of performance from her, though obviously all her acting is full and alive and true, right down to the GE refrigerator commercial she and Mike Nichols did (YouTube “Elaine May refrigerator”) but I don’t know how often she played a role like Gladys. Had she ever? Most of her work in Strindberg and Chekhov was in the 1950s.

We performed The Waverly Gallery a little over 140 times. Here Elaine’s artistry came to full flower, juggling the audience in rapt suspense — “When the show started I thought she was so frail she wasn’t going to get through the first scene,” audience members would say to us. “No,” we would say proudly, “that’s what she wants you to think” — with Gladys’ disintegration while giving a completely fresh, complexity truthful performance that was different every night but true every night. Dangerous, unafraid of ugliness.

Elaine will grab you and shake you around onstage but she will never drop you.

I get asked a lot what it was like working with Elaine. What stories did she tell? Who did you get to meet? And I never have fun answers except obviously Bill Murray.

But it’s been a few months and I’m ready to try. It was thrilling and inspiring and it made me pray that I could ever dance on a knife’s edge when I’m 86 years old. Like Elaine.

Why? What the hell does Elaine May have to prove?

How badly did she want that garbage disposal?



Andy photographed by BIll Bytsura/AIDS Activist Project

Andy Vélez, an internationally prominent AIDS activist, whose three decades of advocacy work resulted in improved drug access and civil rights for people living with HIV, especially in the Latino community, died on May 14, 2019 at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. He was 80.

His sons Ben and Abe Vélez said the cause of death was complications arising from a severe fall in his Greenwich Village building in April.

Until his recent accident and despite several health challenges, Vélez had remained consistently active in the AIDS and social justice communities, taking part in protests for ACT UP and Rise and Resist. Vélez was a seminal member of ACT UP, joining the group in 1987, its first year of activity, and played a prominent role in its most notorious demonstrations over the past 32 years.


At his family’s private service for him this week – I trust there will be a more public memorial one for all his ACT UP and theatre comrades – they handed out laminated cards with Andy’s “Andyisms” which he’d print on signs and hold up during ACT UP meetings as campy running commentary.  When ACT UP meetings would get out of hand, he’d hold up CUT THE CRAP.  I wish I had this card in my wallet to hand out at times.

In addition here is the eulogy that Jay Blotcher delivered for his friend this week:

Andy Velez was the Emma Goldman of ACT UP. He refused to be part of a revolution where he couldn’t dance.

He protested like a warrior. But he added irreverence to the mix. Andy dressed in pearls and jewels for demonstrations. His naughty jokes would easily defuse a stand-off with cops. When we were thrown into jail after a protest, Andy led us all in 60s girl group songs. Or at ACT UP meetings, when some blowhard went on too long, Andy would hold up one of his trademark laminated index cards that would say “Sit Down!”

Andy’s difficult past provided the fuel for his activism. A punishing childhood. Being jailed in 1964 after homosexual entrapment. Navigating a bitter divorce. Coming out at a time when gay was synonymous with AIDS. Andy possessed life lessons that most of ACT UP didn’t.

So Andy would guide the hotheaded youngsters. He modulated our fury. He knew that if you always carried anger in your gut, it would destroy you.

And woe unto the person who accused Andy of excess — or suggested he tone down his tactics. He would fix that individual with a pitying glare and explain that good taste should never get in the way of defiance.

Andy was a supreme movie and musical theatre queen. I was one of his keen students. While I was learning AIDS activism in the trenches, Andy gave me a bonus education. Thanks to him, this diehard rock n’ roller learned the difference between Marie Dressler and Maria Montez, between Eddie Cantor and Eddie Fisher. Andy’s crash course included wicked Merman anecdotes. And mercy, that Monty Clift story. But I digress…

Andy bestowed stacks of his old vinyl on me. I enjoyed a steady diet of Sondheim, Jule Styne, Rodgers & Hart, Archie & Mehitabel. I officially became a musical theatre queen in training.

The tutelage escalated. In 1990 and 1991 Andy hosted a Broadway Musical class at the New School. He made me his teaching assistant, so I met the legends: Barbara Cook, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Sheldon Harnick, Kander & Ebb. And I rescued him one afternoon from a hostage situation in his apartment – perpetrated by Elaine Stritch.

Many stars became Andy’s friends. Not because he was a fawning fan. But because he was honest. He dazzled them with his encyclopedic knowledge, but also dispensed critical analysis that was illuminating.

Andy was an enthusiastic lover of the arts. But a discerning one. In 1995, we went to Rainbow & Stars to see Lorna Luft. Bless her heart, she was no Judy Garland. Nor even a Liza Minnelli. Halfway through the concert, Andy pushed a cocktail napkin across the table. On it he had scribbled “Gee, this sucks, Sally.” I spent the rest of the show squelching giggles.

So we come to this sad day. Even on the matter of death, Andy offered comfort and enlightenment. In 1988, my mom died. I was 28. I was a mess. I had only known Andy a few months in ACT UP, but he was there for my mourning period. Andy shared profound wisdom at the time. I was too grief-stricken for it to register. But the way wisdom works is that when you are ready to hear it, it comes through loud and clear.

Andy explained, “When a loved one dies, the conversation you are having with them does not end. The way you communicate simply changes.”

So, Andy, let’s keep the conversation going. Right now, I suspect you’re hobnobbing at one hell of a cocktail party, clinking glasses with Marlene, Eartha, Barbara, Betty & Adolph, Stritch, and, of course, your beloved Muggsy.

Keep the party going until we get there. Because we will reunite, just as the lyrics tell us in another gem Andy loved: the ballad “Some Other Time” from “On the Town”:

Just when the fun is starting,
Comes the time for parting,
But let’s be glad for what we’ve had
And what’s to come.
There’s so much more embracing
Still to be done, but time is racing.
Oh, well, we’ll catch up
Some other time.


Neville Chamberlain, 1940.




  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

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