Saturday, July 28, 2012

Favorite Sci-Fi Short Stories

Every once in a while I go on a sci-fi kick. It's usually when real life gets so complicated that I need to escape into a totally alien, futuristic world. A few weeks ago, the library in Claverack had a used book sale and I bought 20 books for $2. There were mostly secondary novels by authors I like such as Susan Minot, Jonathan Lethem and Douglas Coupland plus an interesting nonfiction piece called Seven Days in the Art World, profiling different aspects of the modern art scene. I don't know why but I picked up three sci-fi collections in paperback (Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg; The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus, edited by Brian Aldiss, and My Favorite Science Fiction Story, edited by Martin H. Greenberg) and have gotten through one and a half of them. I read the novels, they were pretty quick reads,  then I started the sci-f stories. My life got pretty complicated with a colonoscopy, skin cancer, and a tooth filling falling out, and other minor incidents.

So here are my favorite selections from these collections and one or two others. I find that for the stories to be memorable they must be more than just clever, twisty plots with one-dimensional characters. There has to be something at stake and the imaginary world has to be believable.

"The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster. This 1909 novella predicted the Internet and social media before television and radio, and even telephones were in every home.Foster imagines an underground society were individuals are huddled in cells and communicate through a central computer, abhorring actual human contact. The central computer becomes a god as humanity forgets they are the ones who built it.

"Twilight" by John W. Campbell. Not to be confused with the vampire-werewolf-teenager franchise. In a 1932 Western American diner, a customer relates a tall tale of picking up a weird hitchhiker who claims to be from the 31st century. The bizarre figure in turn tells his story of being sucked into a time warp and being hurled even further into the future when mankind meets a dismal fate.

"Lot" by Ward Moore. 1950s paranoia about the atom bomb translates into domestic conflict as a husband makes a cold-blooded choice for survival after a nuclear attack on Los Angeles. Fascinating character study of pettiness and delusions.

"The First Men" by Howard Fast. Interestingly structured tale imagining man taking over from nature and experimenting with the next step in evolution.

"The Liberation of Earth" by William Tenn. Funny sketch of earth falling victim to competing alien races.

"The Days of Perky Pat" by Philip K. Dick. PKD goes a totally different route, imagining a future so horrible the inhabitants have to get drugged up and live their lives through a doll and her imaginary world. The theme recurs in his novels. I went through a phase of reading one PKD novel after the other--Dr. Bloodmoney was an obscure favorite, as was The Zap Gun about weapons designers taking the place of fashion designers as pop icons.

There were phases of Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison where I read all of their work, I'll have to do some research to remember stories of theirs I particularly liked. I'll add more stories to the list as I go on. In my comic book collection, I have a special fondness for the sci-fi DC comics like From Beyond the Unknown and Mystery in Space. I'll have to devote a blog to that topic highlighting my favorite comic stories.

Friday, July 27, 2012

More Incidents in the Death of Civility

Following up on the Death of Civility Project Runway blog, here are some recent examples of bad behavior I have recently encountered:

1. At a screening of The Amazing Spider-Man, the couple behind us were constantly talking in a loud conversational tone about the movie. Occasional whispers are tolerable, but it was as if these two were at home in their living room watching TV with no awareness of anyone else around them. About 30 minutes into the movie, I finally turned around and said "Please don't talk through the entire movie."

To which the woman replied "You're talking!" Can you believe this? She obviously realized she was disturbing other people but didn't want to admit it.

Me: "Yeah, to tell you to stop talking."

Her husband or boyfriend, sensing his female was being insulted, threatened, "Do you want to take this outside?" What a cliche, fighting for his right to be obnoxious! The woman told him to calm down and they evidently got the message and shut up for most of the rest of the picture.

2. While my partner was driving on Broadway near Union Square today with me in the passenger seat, some older woman with two even older women crossed in back of our car and hit our back window with her umbrella. I thought, "What the hell is her problem?" She and her two charges were crossing very slowly across the middle of the street and we were approaching a red light. So I lowered my window and yelled, "Hey, what's the problem?" I genuinely wanted to know what the grievance was. The woman glared at me and just said "Wake up!" I had no idea what she was talking about. "What are you talking about?" I replied. "Wake up," she repeated. This was very frustrating so I told her to go fuck herself. The only explanation I could think of is she started to cross the street (Not at a light but in the middle of the block) and Jerry my partner did not slow down or stop for her. There was no crosswalk, so she would have clearly been in the wrong. She and the other two lovely ladies then must have crossed in back of us and then in her frustration at our not deferring to her, she hit us with an umbrella.

3. This one is not so bad. We were at dinner at a very nice restaurant and the woman at the next table was talking too loudly. She had this very loud, piercing voice and we heard all about this week's episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. What can you do in a situation like that? You really can't turn to the offending party and tell them to pipe down like at the movies when you would be right to so.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Project Runway Season 10: Episode 1: The Deatherrage of Civility

Gunnar represents the Deatherrage of civility
We are back to the good old framework of Project Runway after that chintzy All-Stars of a few months ago. (I couldn't even watch it to the end, I was so bored with it. The same with Around the World in 80 Plates. Top Chef meets Amazing Race. Yawn) PR premiered on Thurs. and I finally got around to watching the Behind the Scenes "Road to the Runway" special and the 90-minute premiere on Sat. night and Sun. morning. This time there are 16 designers and I have already picked out the most hated one of the season and possibly of all time. Can you guess who it is?

It's the appropriately named Gunnar Deatherrage (because he represents the death of civility in our age.) This twink was one of the first 4 out of 20 designers eliminated at the very  beginning of the previous season.He may be overcompensating for that incident, but he is nasty and obnoxious in addition to possessing an annoying nasal voice. There's nothing wrong for being a larger-than-life personality, but Gunnar must be "the only star in the sky."

He has singled out Christopher for his venom, rebuffing the latter as friendship was offered. Gunnar admitted the reason for his dislike of Christopher is that they are too similar. He feels threatened by someone of the same age and temperament who is probably more talented than him. When Christopher won the first week's challenge, Gunnar told the confession camera "Christopher made a nice dress but now he's going to get a swelled head. He's so arrogant." Pot, meet kettle.

At the other end of my taste spectrum, I like Buffi for her British-Judy-Robinson-from-Lost-in-Space vibe and Andrea for her 58-year-old-I-don't-give-a-shit attitude.I'm almost as old as Andrea and I'm beginning to see what she means.

There are a lot of designers and it's always difficult to get them straight--as it were--on the first episode. But here are my impressions of the remaining ones I can remember. Kooan is like a little anime character whose clothes look like they belong on cartoon characters. I think I'll call him Pickachu. Lantie is now Bib Woman for her signature accessory and her defense of it in defiance of Michael Kors and Nina Garcia.Raul is the one who made the tissue-paper dress. Elanya is the futuristic goth one. All of her designs look like they belong on  the cover of a William Gibson cyberpunk novel. Ven is a master technician with an obsession for red roses, he will probably make it to the end.

This looks to be an exciting season. I read that two contestants have a meltdown and a psychiatrist has to be called to the set.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Why Anderson Cooper's Coming Out IS a Big Deal

It's been a long time since my last regular blog post. In the past few days, I've posted some lists of theater trivia from the 2012-13 season, but there hasn't been any deep stuff from the David Desk since March. It's just been really busy between my job and planning a wedding with my partner in June and now planning a big trip in August as a sort of honeymoon. (More blogs on that later.) So much has happened--Where to start?

Anderson Cooper's coming out, let's go with that. The reaction to this non-surprise has been mixed. Some say a big so what, what's the big deal, we all knew anyway and who cares, it's his private business. Others are reacting with hostility that celebrities deserve their privacy just as much as anyone else. I had written about this about a year ago or so in a blog about Kathy Griffin's purposely NOT joking about her pal Anderson's closet status. Just a week before AC's big reveal, he appeared on her Bravo talk show. One of her "civilian" friends was siting on the couch with Anderson and said she had a big crush on him and was convinced they were now dating. Anderson said "It's not gonna happen." The audience laughed and the inside joke was he was gay. But nobody said anything about that.

I have also heard that the reason he didn't publicly acknowledge his sexuality was so he could continue to report on the ground in fundamentalist Muslim countries.

The reason this is important is that gay people are still being persecuted and gay kids are being bullied and driven to depression and suicide. Being gay is not an agenda or a political statement, it's a natural state of being like being black or Asian. The more prominent, brave, and successful people who come out, the more homosexuality will be accepted as an ordinary way to be. The longer Anderson failed to publicly acknowledge his being gay, the longer it was seen as a secret and shameful--it was seen as something that would alienate his CNN and talk-show viewers. In one interview with P Diddy the rap star offered a gift to Anderson to give to his wife. Anderson said he wasn't married and didn't have a girlfriend. He should have been able to say "I'm gay" and left it at that. I wrote at the time that's what I wanted to happen. I want  celebrities to be able to say "I'm gay" and then move on to something else--or to talk about it if they want to. I think that day is here.

When people say "It's no big deal, why talk about it at all?" what they are really saying is, "It's OK to talk about celebs' relationships and marriages and break-ups if they are straight, but not if they are gay. Let's not talk about gay stuff at all. We all know it's there, let's just pretend it doesn't exist. Anyway, seeing two men or two women kiss creeps me out."

Last month I was married to my partner both in NYC--where it is legal--and Pennsylvania--where it is not. The very act of a public ceremony treating my same-sex relationship as equal to a heterosexual one is revolutionary and Anderson's finally coming is another revolution. It means the general public will not turn from him in droves and his attracted to men will not be a stigma. The process of acceptance is slow, but it's happening and it's inevitable. The day will come when we can get married in all 50 states. Yes North Carolina, even you will accept me and Cooper's coming out is a part of that future.

More blogs to come.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

NYC Theater Awards Compendium

After compiling my personal list of awards in the last blog, here is a compendium of every major theater award and nomination in NYC for 2012-13. Winners are capitalized and nominees are in lower case. Where some awards disagree as to which category a performer belongs in, I placed them in one according to my own judgment. Guide to abbreviations=Astaire=Astaire Award; CD=Clarence Derwent Award; DD=Drama Desk; DL=Drama League; LL=Lucille Lortel Award; OBIE=Obie Award; OCC=Outer Critics Circle; RS=Richard Seff Award; TONY=Tony Award; TW=Theatre World Award. The most nominated performer this season was Jeremy Jordan who was up for Astaire, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and Tonys and won a Theatre World Award.

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Steven Boyer, "Hand to God" (OBIE)
James Corden, "One Man, Two Guvnors" (DD, OCC, TONY)
Hugh Dancy, "Venus in Fur" (dd)
Gabriel Ebert, "4000 Miles" (OBIE)
Claybourne Elder, "One Arm" (dd)
Jim Fletcher (Sustained Achievement OBIE)
Santino Fontana, "Sons of the Prophet" (dd, LL, OBIE, occ)
Joseph Franchini, "The Navigator" (dd)
Russell Harvard, "Tribes" (occ, ll, TW)
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Death of a Salesman" (dd, occ, tony)
Frank Langella, "Man and Boy" (tony)
Hamish Linklater, "The School for Lies" (ll, occ)
John Lithgow, "The Columnist" (tony)
Jay O. Sanders, "Titus Andronicus" (ll)
Kevin Spacey, "Richard III" (dd)
Nick Westrate, "Unnatural Acts," "Love's Labour's Lost," "Galileo" (special DD Award)

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Nina Arianda, "Venus in Fur" (TONY)
Tracie Bennett, "End of the Rainbow" (DD, OCC, tony, TW)
Cherise Booth, "Milk Like Sugar" (OBIE)
Stockard Channing, "Other Desert Cities" (tony)
Tyne Daly, "Master Class" (occ)
Sanaa Lathan, "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" (dd, LL)
Linda Lavin, "The Lyons" (dd, OBIE, occ, tony)
Jennifer Lim, "Chinglish" (dd, TW)
Kim Martin-Cotten, "A Moon for the Misbegotten" (dd)
Carey Mulligan, "Through a Glass Darkly" (dd, ll)
Cynthia Nixon, "Wit" (tony)
Nicole Ari Parker, "A Streetcar Named Desire" (occ)
Joely Richardson, "Side Effects" (dd)
Laila Robins, "The Lady from Dubuque" (occ, RS)
Mary Louise Wilson, "4000 Miles" (OBIE)

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Matthew Broderick, "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (astaire, tony)
Danny Burstein, "Follies" (astaire, DD, OCC, tony)
Kevin Earley, "Death Takes a Holiday" (dd)
Raul Esparza, "Leap of Faith" (dd, occ)
Hugh Jackman, "Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway" (astaire)
Jeremy Jordan, "Newsies" (astaire, dd, occ, tony, TW)
Steve Kazee, “Once” (occ, TONY)
Norm Lewis, "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" (dd, occ, tony)
Ricky Martin, "Evita" (astaire, dd)
Ron Raines, "Follies" (tony)

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Miche Braden, "The DeviI's Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith" (dd, ll)
Jan Maxwell, "Follies" (astaire, dd, occ, tony)
Audra McDonald, "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" (DD, DL, OCC, TONY)
Cristin Milioti, "Once" (occ, tony)
Patti Murin, "Lysistrata Jones" (astaire)
Kelli O'Hara, "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (astaire, dd, occ, tony)
Laura Osnes, "Bonnie and Clyde" (tony)
Bernadette Peters, "Follies" (dd, tony)
Molly Ranson, "Carrie" (dd, ll)
Elena Roger, "Evita" (astaire)
Mary Testa, "Queen of the Mist" (special DD award, ll)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
David Wilson Barnes, "The Big Meal" (ll)
Christian Borle, "Peter and the Starcatcher" (TONY)
Will Brill, “Tribes” (occ)
Bill Camp, "Death of a Salesman" (dd)
Michael Cumpsty, "End of the Rainbow" (tony)
Jim Dale, "The Road to Mecca" (dd)
Adam Driver, "Look Back in Anger" (LL)
Tom Edden, "One Man, Two Guvnors" (DD, occ, tony)
Alvin Epstein, "The Cherry Orchard" (ll)
Andrew Garfield, "Death of a Salesman" (occ, tony)
Bill Irwin, "King Lear" (dd)
Peter Francis James, "The Lady from Dubuque" (ll)
James Earl Jones, "Gore Vidal's The Best Man (OCC, tony)
Jefferson Mays, "Blood and Gifts" (dd, ll, occ)
Chris Perfetti, "Sons of the Prophet" (TW)
Jeff Perry, "Tribes" (ll)
Will Rogers, "Unnatural Acts" (dd)
Jeremy Shamos, "Clybourne Park" (tony)
Morgan Spector, "Russian Transport" (dd)
Finn Wintrock, “Death of a Salesman” (CD, TW)

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Stephanie J. Block, "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" (dd)
Anna Camp, "All New People" (dd)
Crystal A. Dickinson ("Clybourne Park") (TW)
Linda Emond, "Death of a Salesman" (tony)
Anita Gillette, "The Big Meal" (ll)
Joanna Gleason, “Sons of the Prophet” (occ)
Kimberly Hebert Gregory, "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" (dd, ll)
Lisa Joyce, "The Ugly One" (dd)
Joaquina Kalukango, "Hurt Village" (dd, TW)
Spencer Kayden, “Don’t Dress for Dinner” (OCC, tony)
Celia Keenan-Bolger, "Peter and the Starcatcher" (tony)
Angela Lansbury, "Gore Vidal's The Best Man" (dd, occ)
Judith Light, "Other Desert Cities" (DD, occ, TONY)
Hetienne Park, "Seminar," "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide" (TW)
Tonya Pinkins, "Hurt Village" (LL)
Susan Pourfar, “Tribes” (CD, Loudon, OBIE)
Condola Rashad, "Stick Fly" (tony)
Daphne Rubin-Vega, "A Streetcar Named Desire" (occ)
Mare Winningham, "Tribes (ll)

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Phillip Boykin, "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" (dd, occ, TW, tony)
Ryan Breslin, "Newsies" (astaire)
Matt Cavenaugh, "Death Takes a Holiday" (dd)
Michael Cerveris, "Evita" (dd, tony)
David Alan Grier, "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" (tony)
Robert Hartwell, " Nice Work If You Can Get It" (astaire)
Thayne Jasperson, "Newsies" (astaire)
Andrew Keenan-Bolger, "Newsies" (occ)
Michael McGrath, "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (DD, OCC, TONY)
Leslie Odom, Jr., "Leap of Faith" (ASTAIRE)
Patrick Page, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" (dd, occ, RS)
Andrew Samonsky, "Queen of the Mist" (dd)
Ryan Steele, "Newsies" (astaire)
Chris Sullivan, "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (occ)
Ephriam Sykes, "Newsies" (astaire)
Jason Tam, "Lysistrata Jones" (astaire)
Josh Young, "Jesus Christ Superstar" (TW, tony)

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Ashley Amber, "Evita" (astaire)
Crystal Joy Brown, "Leap of Faith" (astaire)
Elizabeth A. Davis, "Once" (tony)
Bahiyah Hibah, "Evita" (astaire)
Jayne Houdyshell, "Follies" (occ, tony)
Judy Kaye, "Nice Work If You Can Get It" (DD, OCC, TONY)
Kara Lindsay, "Newsies" (astaire)
Rebecca Luker, "Death Takes a Holiday" (occ)
Marin Mazzie, "Carrie" (dd, ll, occ)
Jessie Mueller, "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" (dd, TW, tony)
Elaine Paige, "Follies" (dd)
Da'Vine Joy Randolph, "Ghost" (occ, tony)
Sarah Sokolovic, "The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World" (dd)
Melissa van der Schyff, "Bonnie & Clyde" (dd, occ)
Lisa Nicole Wilkerson, "The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" (ASTAIRE)

Solo Performance
Baba Brinkman, "The Rap Guide to Evolution" (dd)
Judy Gold, "My Life as a Sitcom" (occ)
Soli Holum, "Chimera" (dd)
David Greenspan, "The Patsy" (occ)
Jeff Key, "The Eyes of Babylon" (dd)
Daniel Kitson, "It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later" (OBIE)
Ethan Lipton, "No Place to Go" (OBIE)
Cillian Murphy, "Misterman" (dd)
Denis O'Hare, "An Iliad" (dd, LL, OBIE, OCC)
Stephen Spinella, "An Illiad" (dd, LL, OBIE, occ)

Cast of "Sweet and Sad" (DD, OBIE)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The 3rd Annual David Desk Awards

For the past three years, I've listed my personal choices for the best theatrical work of the season. As a member of the Drama Desk, New York Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle and the American Theatre Critics Association, I do get to vote on all those awards as well as the Tonys. For eight years, I was a member of the Drama Desk nominating committee. But now I like to include what I would like to have seen nominated in various categories. So here they are the David Desk Awards for 2011-12. It's not meant as a criticism of the other awards, just my personal taste. I know it's a month after the Tonys, but so what? These are just for fun and reflect what I have seen during the season and it includes Broadway, Off and Off-Off on an equal footing. I have limited the number to six per category, but did not put in that many just to fill up a category if I did not feel there were six truly worthy candidates.

"The Big Meal" (Dan LeFranc)
“Blood and Gifts” (J.T. Rogers)
“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” (Lynn Nottage)
“The Columnist” (David Auburn)
“The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…” (Tony Kushner)
“Sons of the Prophet” (Stephen Karam)

“Lysistrata Jones”

Play Revival:
"Beyond the Horizon"
"Death of a Salesman"
“How I Learned to Drive”

Musical Revival:
“Porgy and Bess”

Actor (Play):
Simon Russell Beale, “Bluebird”
James Corden, “One Man, Two Guvnors”
Michael Cristofer, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Death of a Salesman"
Derek Jacobi, “King Lear” (BAM)
John Lithgow, “The Columnist”

Actress (Play):
Tracie Bennett, “End of the Rainbow”
Kathleen Chalfant, "Painting Churches"
Tyne Daly, “Master Class”
Sanaa Lathan, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”
Linda Lavin, “The Lyons”
Ellen McLaughlin, “Septimus & Clarissa”

Actor (Musical):
Danny Burstein, "Follies"
Jeremy Jordan, "Newsies"
Norm Lewis, “Porgy and Bess”
Varla Jean Merman (Jeffrey Roberson), “Lucky Guy”
Steve Kazee, “Once”

Actress (Musical):
Jan Maxwell, “Follies”
Audra McDonald, “Porgy and Bess”
Cristin Milioti, “Once”
Molly Ranson, "Carrie"
Elena Roger, "Evita"
Mary Testa, “Queen of the Mist”

Featured Actor (Play):
Oliver Chris, “One Man, Two Guvnors”
Peter Francis James, “The Lady from Dubuque”
James Earl Jones, "The Best Man"
Jefferson Mays, “Blood and Gifts”
Bernard White, “Blood and Gifts”

Featured Actress (Play):
Kimberly H├ębert Gregory, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”
Adrienne C. Moore, “Milk Like Sugar”
Tonya Pinkins, “All’s Well That Ends Well,” “Hurt Village” and “Milk Like Sugar”
Wrenn Schmidt, "Beyond the Horizon"
Jeanine Serralles, “Maple and Vine”
Danielle Skraastad, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…”

Featured Actor (Musical):
Phillip Boykin, “Porgy and Bess”
Michael Cerveris, "Evita"
David Alan Grier, “Porgy and Bess”
Patrick Page, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”
Andrew Samonsky, “Queen of the Mist”

Featured Actress (Musical):
Lindsay Nicole Chambers, “Lysistrata Jones”
Judy Kaye, “Nice Work If You Can Get It”
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “Ghost”
Melissa Van Der Schyff, “Bonnie & Clyde”
Lilias White, "The Best Is Yet to Come"

Director (Play):
Jo Bonney, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”
Sam Gold, "The Big Meal"
Michael Grief, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…”
Nicholas Hytner, “One Man, Two Guvnors”
Mike Nichols, "Death of a Salesman"
Bartlett Sher, “Blood and Gifts”

Director (Musical):
Jack Cummings III, “Queen of the Mist”
Diane Paulus, “Porgy and Bess”
Eric Schaeffer, “Follies”
John Tiffany, “Once”

Christopher Gattelli, "Newsies"
Dan Knechtges, “Lysistrata Jones”

Set Design:
David Gallo, “Hurt Village”
David Korins, “Chinglish”
Christopher Oram, "Evita"
Neil Patel, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”
Mark Wendland, “The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…”

Costume Design:
Gregg Barnes, “Follies”
ESosa, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”
William Ivey Long, “Lucky Guy,” “The School for Lies”
David C. Woolard and Thomas Charles LeGalley, “Lysistrata Jones”

Lighting Design:
Neil Austin, "Evita"
Michael Gilliam, “Bonnie & Clyde”
Natasha Katz, “Once”
Brian Nason, "Beyond the Horizon"
Keith Parham, “Septimus & Clarissa”

Sound Design:
Clive Goodwin, “Once”
Matt Tierney, Ben Williams, “The Sun Also Rises (The Select)”

Unique Theatrical Experience:
"You Better Sit Down: Tales From My Parents' Divorce"