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Edited by Armond White

New York’s Review of Culture .

Recall and Response roadway’s new Black (or nontraditional cast) production of The Trip to Bountiful comes alive when Cicely Tyson as Carrie Watts, an elderly Texas widow longing to return to her titular hometown, stands up and sings a church hymn in a desolate bus station. It is the chestnut “Blessed Assurance” and as Tyson prances and sings, the audience spontaneously joined in. Was it a response to the actress and her legacy of cultural landmarks (Sounder, Roots, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, East Side/West Side) or gospel’s call-and-response tradition that veteran Black performers and audiences bring to Broadway? It was a surprising—and unexpectedly satisfying— moment; unscripted by playwright Horton Foote whose synthetic Southern doggerel treats the human condition like bolts of preprinted fabric. Familiar ideas about family, aging and the passing of time are cut and stitched into ready-made, second-hand drama—the half-tragic equivalent to a sitcom. But there’s Tyson as Carrie Watts, the role that originated by Lillian Gish and that won Geraldine Page an Oscar. This occasion forces one to realize the paucity of roles for older actresses (Tyson is 80), especially black actresses. Tyson seizes the vehicle to communicate her principled talent to a culture that has forgotten what that means. When Carrie cries “I want to go back to Bountiful,” Tyson gives it the yearning of a woman who feels existentially stranded in a debilitating, non-nurturing place, a cramped two-room Houston apartment with her son Ludie (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and his frustrated, harpy wife Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams). The

situation parallels the lack of mobility faced by black actresses toiling in an unwelcoming or restricting profession. Tyson‘s career milestones have always happened against the odds yet her successes are impressive because their always demonstrate moral integrity. Not the worse legacy, it puts Tyson in the same league as Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte–powerful performers who also stood for something. In this case, the memory of a bountiful artistic and political calling in which personal artistry illuminates mere professionalism. That Tyson’s lack of sentimentality—her defining quality—fits Carrie Watts is ironic. Foote’s determined yet nostalgic crone is utterly average, suffering typical old-age dilemmas. Not exactly a warm matriarch, Tyson makes her stubborn, self-obsessed drive to return to her roots seem vital, (her subtle anger recalls Tyson’s Rebecca in Sounder). She works Foote’s threadbare, pseudo-homey clichés for all they’re worth. There’s no richness in Foote’s writing, the flat, naturalistic language resists poetry; Geraldine Page gave the film her hammy but great emotionalism to stave off Foote’s unintended yet unavoidable bleakness. In the last act, director Michael Wilson lets Tyson nearly transform Carrie Watt’s dotage into principle: “I found my dignity and strength” she says looking at her girlhood home with the symbolic name, (a bland version of the yearning psychology William Inge expressed better in Come Back, Little Sheba). That line isn’t quite believable but we know what Carrie/Tyson means: The search for stronger values and desire to restore personal heritage are clear. The sympathetic audience provided a Tyler Perry response, giving more implicit Christian fellowship than Foote intended. (Singing “Blessed Assurance” also recalls Tyson’s very excellent Peter Bogdanovich TV movie Blessed Assurance.) With Tyson’s presence, this production’s new



Cicely Tyson brings realness to The Trip to Bountiful By Armond White


Tyson and Candola Rashad in A Trip to BounƟful. ethnic focus evokes the Great Migration history of blacks relocated to urban living yet retaining ambivalent memories of the South as home. Jeff Cowie’s set, superlatively lighted by Rui Rita, recalls the Hudson River School of bucolic radiance; creating a visible, nearly cinematic passage of time. The years since Tyson performed in the legendary 1961 production of Genet’s The

Blacks have seen the once-thriving Black American theater movement pass. In this not-good-enough play Tyson’s richness and will makes one nostalgic for Black theater’s forgotten bounty.

Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair



The Detroit Way A revived orchestra comes to Carnegie Hall with its maestro, Leonard Slatkin By Jay Nordlinger


rom May 6 to May 11, Carnegie Hall will present a festival called “Spring for Music.” It offers five orchestras in six concerts. The orchestras come from around the country, and one of them was to have been the Oregon Symphony. The Oregonians found themselves short on cash, however, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will play two concerts (May 9 and 10). The first DSO concert consists of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Kurt Weill and Maurice Ravel. The second one is devoted to Charles Ives—his four symphonies. The concerts are conducted by the DSO’s music director, Leonard Slatkin. I say to him, in a phone conversation, “I’m glad to be hearing Ives. But it’s a shame not to hear Walter Piston—he’s never played.” Slatkin informs me that he himself conducts Piston. But it’s true: The mid-century Americans are largely ignored. Music follows fashion, and Piston, William Schuman, Peter Mennin and the rest of those guys are out of fashion. A young conductor, says Slatkin, should make a project out of reviving them.

Leonard Slatkin

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A young woman named Caroline Shaw has just won the Pulitzer Prize, notes Slatkin. She does not call herself a composer, interestingly enough. But performers will naturally want to perform what music she has written, or will write. What they’re unlikely to do, says Slatkin, is unearth, say, the Seventh Symphony of Roy Harris. (That composer’s Third was once well-known, but has faded from the repertoire.) Slatkin grew up in Los Angeles, the son of a famous musician: Felix Slatkin, the violinist, conductor, arranger and so on. In and out of the house trooped even more famous musicians: Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, yes, but also Art Tatum, the jazz pianist, and Frank Sinatra. Felix Slatkin died in 1963, when he was only 47. Leonard was 19. He is now doing what his father wanted to do but did not live quite long enough to do: head an orchestra. His father wanted an orchestra of his own to conduct, somewhere. He was on the verge of getting one when he died. Leonard Slatkin has held many music directorships in his career. He started in Detroit five years ago. The DSO has come through a rocky period. Before there was a national recession, there was a “one-state recession”: Michigan’s. The DSO was not immune. Then, toward the end of 2010, the musicians went on strike, for six months. The orchestra is now back on its feet, reformed and flexible. The musicians took a pay cut—22 percent, on average. But they can earn more with optional work. The orchestra’s main home is still Orchestra Hall, downtown. But they are also out in the suburbs, in six different venues. Occasionally, the musicians break out into smaller ensembles, such as string quartets. “We don’t do flash mobs yet,” says Slatkin, “but that may come.” Ticket prices have fallen, and ticket sales have increased. Also, concerts are streamed live on the Internet. “We are

redefining the word ‘audience,’” says Slatkin. The webcasts are free of charge. Doesn’t this keep people from going to the concert hall? On the contrary, says Slatkin: The webcasts whet their appetite for the live-and-in-person experience. The DSO is even developing an audience abroad, says Slatkin. “So, when the time comes to resume international touring, we have a head start. People not only know how we play, they know what we look like.” You can buy all nine Beethoven symphonies from the DSO for a mere 20 bucks: They are downloadable. Slatkin figures we will have compact discs for another three or four years and then yield entirely to new technologies. The DSO also has a number of programs designed to provide music education to young Detroiters—this used to be the job of families and schools. Slatkin himself enjoyed an excellent music education in the public schools he attended. He may have come from a spectacularly musical home, but “I cherished that hour when the music teacher came in with an autoharp.” Our society has changed, though, as we all know. In short, the DSO has found a way to keep itself afloat, and moving forward. They are coping with the challenges of today, and also taking advantage of opportunities—such as the Internet. Slatkin is a particularly good ambassador for music. He is not only a fine conductor, he is one of the best talkers about music you’ll ever hear. He has some things in common with a conductor he much admired, Leonard Bernstein. And after all these years, he still loves music as much as ever. “I have the best job in the world,” he says. “It is an honor and a privilege, as well as a responsibility.” He continues, “I stand in front of a hundred musicians and give a downbeat. To this day, I’m not 100 percent sure why that sound comes out”—the hard-to-beat sound of an orchestra.



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Wan-der-lust by Peter Rupprecht.

Suspending Reality Burning Man collaborative art comes to Wan-Der-Lust By Elena Oumano


he six artists behind “WanDer-Lust,” a month-long, (now through May 15), mixed-media pop-up exhibit on the ground floor of 72 Wooster Street, announces its mission in a black painted scrawl over the entrance: “Wanderlust is about the primal impulse for exploration. The work assembled expresses a freedom pulsing through the body blood. The collective narrative in this exhibition is informed by journeys unknown; inspired by the moment. The work is meant to inspire a state of constant flow and transformation. Through these works on paper, canvas, photography, sculpture and furniture, we express the human craving for discovery. Welcome to Wanderlust. We invite you to suspend in your reality.” Since art of necessity involves exploration, transformation, and discovery, perhaps more to the point is photographer Peter Ruprecht’s observation that this show embodies the “Burning Man ethos of collaboration brought into the real world.” Photographers Reka Nyari and Ruprecht; artists Jody Levy and Arten Mirolevich; sculptors/furniture makers Dara Young and Yarrow Mazzetti; along with Harlan Berger of Centaur Properties, the developer hosting “Wan-Der-Lust” before 72 Wooster is sold, met at Burning Man and


formed a camp that creates art alongside others as part of the pop-up community that takes over Nevada’s Black Rock desert every year. Over the course of a few weeks, they’ve transformed a rough, rubble-strewn NYC space lacking electricity into a gallery in order to showcase the individual works that often bear traces of each other’s fortuitous interference. All the contributors here evidence imagination and skill, but Ruprecht and Mazzetti show the strongest. Mazzetti’s powerfully authentic heart of pine and stainless steel furniture includes a sleekly gorgeous dining table and a chest with 5 theme drawers, each crammed with objects and opening to a flood of music. Ruprecht, a former Olympic skier and financial consultant who’s untrained in photography, first bought a camera in 2006 and a few years later, had a billboard looming over Times Square. His richly-colored, high contrast images are not framed. Instead, Mazzetti’s aluminum backings extend the images’ space beyond four corners, underscoring their generosity and excitingly alive quality. A series of meticulously rendered etchings by Mirolevich, a visionary artist also working in water color, pen and ink here stands out as well. He’s the only Wan-Der-Lust artist with professional representation, But galleries are currently circling Ruprecht. Three of his photos were snapped up at the opening night party attended by 2000 people gathered mostly by internet word-of-mouth—further evidence of Burning Man’s infiltration into the real world.


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ways to your newspaper old

Use it as wrapping paper, or fold & glue pages into reusable gift bags.


Add shredded newspaper to your compost pile when you need a carbon addition or to keep flies at bay.


Use newspaper strips, water, and a bit of glue for newspaper mâché.


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Crumple newspaper to use as packaging material the next time you need to ship something fragile.

Tightly roll up sheets of newspaper and tie with string to use as fire logs.

After your garden plants sprout, place newspaper sheets around them, then water & cover with grass clippings and leaves. This newspaper will keep weeds from growing.

Make origami creatures

Use shredded newspaper as animal bedding in lieu of sawdust or hay.


Make your own cat litter by shredding newspaper, soaking it in dish detergent & baking soda, and letting it dry.


Wrap pieces of fruit in newspaper to speed up the ripening process.


Cut out letters & words to write anonymous letters to friends and family to let them know they are loved.


Roll a twice-folded newspaper sheet around a jar, remove the jar, & you have a biodegradable seed-starting pot that can be planted directly into the soil.


Make newspaper airplanes and have a contest in the backyard.

12 15

Stuff newspapers in boots or handbags to help the items keep their shape. Dry out wet shoes by loosening laces & sticking balled newspaper pages inside.

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Spielberg’s Shortcomings about the media’s protection of Obama’s image and its implicit lack of decorum which began (negatively) with the media’s assault on George W, Bush’s presidency. But Nevermind. (That might have been a more clever title for the short—what, By Armond White was Tony Kushner too busy reading Entertainment Weekly?). he worst Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg’s Obama was production ever is, without made redundantly, to disguise the doubt, his Barack Obama euphemistic Beltway metaphors of homage, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, (such as that despicable Obama. Unlike his disingenuous moment when Abraham Lincoln, Obama-in-disguise campaign feature film, arms outstretched, mendaciously Lincoln, this two-minute second satirical short emulates the scales of justice—but looks artless and slapdash; it was made for politicking with his right hand and Steven Spielberg’s Obama. last weekend’s White House Correspondents’ prevaricating with his Left). Yet, those Dinner—an annual event for fatcats that who care about the honor of Spielberg’s fabrications were rooted in the dark heart of contradicts the United States’ supposed best work have to pay mind to this short’s millennial White Liberal fantasy, not historical allegiance to democracy by gathering the dishonesty. It gainsays the fact of Obama’s fact or African American dreaming. nation’s most empowered people (media media-based mythification by joking about it. Because Obama has become the fulfillment celebrities) to gently lambaste but mostly Spielberg pretends in the short to be of White Liberal dreaming, his mythification celebrate their empowered peer, the President, thinking about doing a first film about in Lincoln and throughout the mainstream as the most casual, supercilious, inviolable and Obama and smirks, “Picking the right actor media is accepted without vetting—so much narcissistic cat of them all. to “play Obama that was the challenge. So I so that even Spielberg can contribute to the Newscasters have disgraced their needed someone who could dive in and really mythification, attempting to sway an election profession and politics by making cameos become Barack Obama. And as it turns out and then kid about it. with apparently no qualms that news is just the answer was right in front of me all along: His short’s suggestion that the Obama myth another form of celebritized fiction. There’s Daniel Day Lewis.” This plays the movie required an actor of Daniel Day Lewis’ stature an unholy alliance between the news industry going public cheap, as if they weren’t smart is inadvertently revealed. Spielberg boasts and Hollywood. No matter the deprivations enough to catch that Obama was already the about Day Lewis’ method of ”becom[ing] Americans across the country still suffer subtext of Lincoln. Spielberg knew this, he let his character: Hawkeye from Last Of The from Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook, West, screenwriter Tony Kushner go forward with Mohicans, Bill the Butcher in The Gangs Texas and the economy—the Correspondents’ the rhetorical ruse which The New York Times of New York and Abraham Lincoln from dinner is a ritual for the privileged, the ruling only cottoned to after the film’s release. Lincoln. And you know what, he nailed it.” class that Americans like to think doesn’t exist. In an analysis titled “Confronting the Nailing it is the correct, crucifying term for That’s one reason they go to the movies, (the Fact of Fiction and the Fiction of Fact,” two the Washington Correspondents Dinner’s most shameful reason), and Spielberg made thumbs-up reviewers chimed “Lincoln isn’t deprecation of American history. this short to further that ends of mystification, just about how President Lincoln navigated Spielberg’s litany accidentally links Obama’s misguidance and manipulation. the passage of the 13th Amendment; it presidency to questionable representations The mockumentary’s unfunny jokes is also about President Obama whose of American history: James Fennimore start with Spielberg asking “I mean who is presidency could not be imagined without Cooper’s White fantasy that Leslie Fiedler Obama, really? We don’t know. We never got that amendment.” So much form the limits once explicated, (in Love and Death and his transcripts.” This would only be amusing of Times critics’ imaginations. They finally the American Novel) as the embodiment of if it weren’t true. There’s obscenity in joking admitted that Spielberg and Kushner’s Eurocentric fears and the basis of America’s racial delusions, (a critical thesis now forgotten in the Ebert age); Scorsese’s postHarold Rosenbaum conducts The Canticum Novum Singers Vietnam imagining of America’s hostile social legacy and immigrant brutality. Spielberg ties all that to Lincoln, not to absolve it but to SATURDAY, MAY 18 AT 8 PM unconsciously root it to the racial and political Saint Jean Baptiste Church, 76th Street at Lexington confusion about slavery and identity that the unvetted Obama represents. F E AT U R I N G But, wait! It gets worse! Obama himself Heidi Grant Murphy, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Frank Lopardo, Clifford Derix takes part in Spielberg’s charade. After once and The Artemis Chamber Ensemble claiming “I have a lot on my plate,” Obama generously took the time to complete Program also includes Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus Spielberg’s fantasy by showing how he and Bach’s Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied prepares for public performance: Looking into “Chamber choruses don’t come a mirror, Obama preps “Hello, Ohio! Hello, any better.” — The New York Times Ohio!” “I love you back.” “Look, look, let me be clear about this.” The only thing that’s Tickets: $60, $40 at (212) 866-0468 or at clear is that the gathered media aristocracy,

Media short sides with American aristocracy—and dishonesty


Mozart’s Grand Mass in C Minor



(including the low-down yet highly-placed of Hollywood and Manhattan), approves this disingenuousness. It’s all right with them. They want a President as lacking in dignity as they are, so they reduce him to their level—morally, professionally, politically. This short is Spielberg’s most Brechtian comedy: he gets the President of the United States to ridicule the supposedly sincere reasons his constituents support him, undermining the prestige of office that even his opponents are obliged to respect. (One could argue that the media’s out-of-control disrespect the presidency began with George W. Bush or maybe our lapdog media was born during the Clinton administration). For Spielberg, Obama willingly portrays a performer in the act of deceiving the public. (Only Bill and Hillary Clinton taking on the roles of the mafia gangsters The Sopranos was as offensive.) It is not funny when Obama-as-Day-Lewis confuses things, saying “The hardest part? Trying to understand his [my] motivations. Why did he [I] pursue ‘health care’ first? What makes him [me] tick? Why doesn’t he [I] get mad? If I was him I’d be mad all the time. But I’m not him, I’m Daniel Day Lewis.” It’s as bad as a Saturday Night Live skit. Or a Jon Stewart Early Show skit. Or a Real Time with Bill Maher skit. (Or a Morning Joe, Rachel Maddow skit, I mean, “newscast.”) That’s how low the producer of the terrific early Zemeckis-Gale comedies has sunk. For the past seven months I’ve personally been fielding questions about why I didn’t like the movie Lincoln. Going through the unpleasant effort of explaining the film’s basic inaccuracy and unfairness to people who were prepared to love and defend it simply because it was customized to their political sentiments, made my explanation all the more frustrating. (When die-hard Spielberg scoffers praised Lincoln, I knew their commendations had nothing to do with esthetics or history, only with the film’s slanted politics and strenuously forced contemporary parallel to Obama’s lame-duck presidency.) Now, after the disappointment of the Kushner-Spielberg Lincoln, we get its unfortunate sequel—actually a coda. A coda ought to reinforce a work’s preceding revelations but it’s become apparent that after his previous great films showed the humane aspect of the human experience, Spielberg has taken up the partisan view. Now that Spielberg shows us what Lincoln actually meant, one can really, rightfully rue it.


CityArts May 9th, 2013  

The May 9th, 2013 issue of cityArts. CityArts is an essential voice on the best to see, hear and experience in New York’s cultural landscape

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