Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Vacation days on barter

When I first moved to New York, it took me about two months to get my cable installed. Living alone, I had no one at home to let the cable installer in during the week -- and was just starting a new job, so could hardly take a day off for that -- and Time Warner isn't exactly easy when it comes to weekend appointments. My first few months, the only station I could get was a very snowy Telefutura.

Now, I'd expect that from the cable company. But from my apartment's internal maintenance crews? For some reason, they absolutely refuse to come into my apartment when I'm not here. They called today and actually seemed to expect me to take a day off work to let them in to fix a leaky radiator (a problem I told them about a month ago that they're just getting around to because it's now leaking into the apartment below me). They have the same policy with their exterminator, which might explain why all the roaches in the apartment complex seem to visit my kitchen.

I'm just glad that 4 percent rent increase is going to good use.

As side note -- this is my 100th post! How appropriate that it's me bitching about something.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Jennifer Holliday, too!

I mentioned, when the Oscar nominations came out, how I had seen virtually none of the nominated films. Well, although I've still yet to see any of the best picture nominees, I did squeeze in a few movies between then and last night.

Unfortunately, looking back over the list of winners this morning, I realized that I had seen only two movies that actually won an Oscar. One was "An Inconvenient Truth." The other? "Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest." Jerry Seinfeld's fresh-ten-years-ago riff was one of the most recognizable aspects of the evening to me. I haven't felt this out-of-touch since being subjected to the very, er, hetero-centric comedy stylings of Joe Rogan.

In other words, me watching the Oscars last night was about the equivalent if I had watched the Tonys last year after seeing only "Tarzan" and "Bridge and Tunnel." Yet I did anyway. And for the record, I've seen neither "Tarzan" nor "Bridge and Tunnel." Now I have a headache.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Service with a smirk

Rusty's post from Wednesday at Rusty's Balcony about Chip Boy reminded me of a rather unpleasant chapter in my life.

Back in my college years in Houston, there was a restaurant in the Montrose area called Cafe Urbana -- now defunct for several years, and its location later became the fish taco haven Berryhill's. The food at Urbana wasn't really that great, mostly uninventive pasta dishes and heavy meats, but our usual waiter was really cute, so I always found excuses to make my friends go with me. One of them got her revenge on me after a night of clubbing by vomiting her Urbana venison in my car at the end of the night, but that's another story.

Now, one particular night, I was in especially heavy flirting mode. Keep in mind this was in my formative years, back when I thought two dates meant I had a boyfriend, that "I love you" meant "I love you" and that people in the service industry were really nice because they were attracted to you and not because they wanted a healthy tip. The clincher for me was when the waiter came out beaming with a dessert I hadn't ordered, handing it to me with a wink and saying it was on him.

My dining companion for the evening -- the same friend, I should add, who once helped me fake an identity to facilitate a break-up -- convinced me that leaving my phone number and a brief note with the bill was a great idea. So I did.

After we had driven about two or three miles down the road, my friend asked me if I put the waiter's name on the note. I hadn't. We then realized that it was a distinct possibility that my note could have been picked up by the man who had been pouring our iced tea all night, a man in his 50s or 60s who I don't even think spoke English. The friend convinced me to go back to Urbana, and passive aggressive as I was, she would go in to make sure that the waiter got the note.

A few minutes later, she returned triumphantly to the car. "He's going to call you," she beamed. I started to get excited, but she continued: "He said that he already has a boyfriend, but that he could always use new friends." Crash. The words of death. I wasn't surprised when he never called, and I didn't eat at Urbana again for years.

I did see said waiter again several months later at a Houston club with a guy who presumably was that boyfriend. He was quite friendly and said hello as the boyfriend gave me the iciest stare that I ever saw. We didn't chat for long.

So Rusty -- if the moment ever feels right, go for it! Just be prepared to lose a restaurant you love if it doesn't go well.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Toot, toot, Tootie goodbye

I'm a few days behind in posting this, but Eric and I had the pleasure of catching Charlotte Rae's appearance at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble on Wednesday. She was there to promote her recently reissued album "Songs I Taught My Mother."

What a delight it was! At 80, she's just as adept at mugging and broad comedy as ever. She had the room eating from her tiny hand during the approximate hour-long set -- most of the songs in which I didn't know, but no matter. Who else could sell songs about lovelorn gophers and merry minuets to sing amid the strife in the daily news? Sheldon Harnick, the author of the latter, also was in attendance. And it was truly a joy to hear her perform "The Ballad of Dependency" from "The Threepenny Opera," a song she performed as Mrs. Peachum in 1954. A side note: Her version of "Pirate Jenny," which is available through iTunes, is one of the most wonderfully vicious versions of that song I've ever heard.

Eric and I also had a lot of fun failing miserably at star-spotting in the audience. We were able to pick out Olympia Dukakis, but the rest were people who we knew we should have known but didn't. For a second, I was sure that I had spotted Pamela Myers until it was pointed out to me that she was involved in another project and not nearly old enough to have been the woman I was looking at.

At any rate, it's a little sad that most people will remember her as nothing more than Mrs. Garrett from "The Facts of Life" -- or even worse, for Paul Vogt's impersonation of her as Mrs. Garrett on MadTV. She was nominated for a Tony twice, after all. And more recently, she called Joan Collins a bitch.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just call me the Milton Berle of blogdom

I've never met a good idea I don't like to steal. So following Eric's footsteps yet again, I made one of those maps showing which state's I've visited:

(Create your own personalized map of the USA)

I love that I've been in literally about 10 miles of North Dakota, but that's enough to get the whole state colored in. Obviously, I need to plan a trip to the northern Midwest sometime. I can't think of any excuses to go to Kansas, however.

Just for fun, here's my Europe map as well.

(Create your personalized map of Europe)

I love the little white dots like San Marino and Vatican City. I'd do the one of the world, but you could pretty much see what it would look like by combining the U.S. and Europe maps. Just add Canada. I think I'm one of the few (former) Texans alive who has never even been to Mexico.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Twelve talented stereotypes

I don't usually review tours, but I must say a few good words about the current national tour of the Roundabout's production of "12 Angry Men" -- which I missed when it was on Broadway.

To be frank, the show is not one of my favorites. With a plot straight out of an episode of "Matlock" and enough manufactured melodrama to fill three seasons of "Dynasty," I've never really understood its appeal. But a good production is a good production.

Naturally, the promotional materials have focused on the two best-known stars in the production: Richard Thomas and George Wendt. It's a little ironic, however, that theirs are the two least interesting characters in the show. Wendt's affable foreman and Thomas' crusading Juror #8, the sole unwavering dissenting voice in the group, are little more than catalysts for the other stock characters on the jury. This isn't the fault of either actor, however, as both do well in their roles.

As for the other characters -- the baseball-loving tough guy, the blue collar guy with all the common sense, the blustering bigot, the wise old man and so on -- none of the actors seem to be direct imports from central casting. I won't single anyone out, but all brought a little personal flair to the characters so that even though I knew every single thing that was going to happen, I was still engaged enough to pay attention. Combined with some excellent direction -- pacing was spot-on, as was the blocking -- I really enjoyed it.

It's funny how much New York has spoiled me as far as theatre-going, however. Every time I go to one of these regional houses, like Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, it feels so cavernous. The sound system makes the dialogue echo, or in the case of a recent production of "West Side Story" that I saw there, sound canned.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A few final thoughts on Hardaway

Or not really about him. About showering with icky gays.

I've now been reading numerous suggestions from those thumping their chests for Tim Hardaway that he makes a good point in that gays should have separate locker rooms. Take this rather illiterate post from from a poster named 1569jimmy (great last two letters, by the way, jim):

The part about the lockerroom is a free ride for gay men. I go to the gym and work out at BALLY'S and am constantly looking over my shoulder in the showers as there are at least 3 or 4 different gay men a night going there not even to work out but just paying their membership dues so they could go in and out of the steamroom .It's so obvious as they go back and forth from the showers to the steamroom so they can get their jollies and semi-erections. You could literally see them looking at you from the back of your eye. Why should i be made to feel uncomfortable, when i'm in the lockerroom? ALL it does is pis me off AND MAKE ME RUSH my shower SO I don't have to endure this while they are getting their kicks on my expense. TRUST ME, it's not one or 2 that are their strictly for showering. It's at least one in any location that i go to. THESE SAID INDIVIDUALS have never been seen working out. They're WILLING to pay $30 a month for unlimited access to manflesh. When you think of it, it's like a straight guy being a peeping tom in the women's lockerrom. THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. The only difference is that they are alowed access because they have the same genitalia (ALBEIT for different purposes) and can hide behind this fact. They are portrayed as victims, but in reality so are the straight men that have no choice in the matter. I GAURANTEE yOU if they didn't have any lockerrooms 80% of the gays that are members would not be RENEWING THEIR MEMBERSHIPS. That's what keeping it real souns like. You can call it homophobic or whatever you'd like, but also have to factor that 90% of straight men somewhat have the same point of view.
I can see how someone who writes so eloquently would be hard to resist. And I've found that the ones who worry most about other guys hitting on them are the ones who usually should have to worry about it the least. And I'll also bet that you didn't know that 95 percent of rhetorical percentages are just made up in the writer's head and have no basis in facts whatsoever.

But let's pretend, for a moment, that jimmy here is the spitting image of Wentworth Miller or someone else that would be capable of giving your typical gay male a "semi-erection," whatever that is.

First of all, I have it on pretty good authority that many straight guys check each other out while in the locker room shower. It's a method of, let's say, assessing their manhood.

So, the naked body is being looked at one way or the other. Therefore, what is the difference if the looking provides the opportunity for arousal? Unless the gym is incredibly sketchy, the management will suspend the membership of anyone doing something torrid in the corner. If there's a problem, report it. If someone is overtly ogling, call them out on it. Embarrass them. That's what I would do. Believe it or not, I don't particularly like to be ogled in the shower myself. That's probably what the girls in the yoga class would do if they saw straight men ogling them as they go through the various positions.

For another view, check out Andrew Sullivan. The email he prints also confirms my earlier point.

Anyway, I'm through with this subject now. I'll be in Texas a few days, so I might not have the ability to post. So in case I'm not back before, everyone have a fabulous holiday weekend!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hating the reaction, not the action

The Tim Hardaway story is the type that leaves me in a foul mood all day. My first instinct was to come on here and compose a vitriol-dripping rant, but I'm going to refrain from that. Rather, I'm going to attempt to rationally say, without personal insults, why this situation is so wounding. By doing so, I hope that at least someone who might be of that mindframe might read it and at least try to see things from another angle. Indulge me, please, because this might take a while.

Now, Hardaway's comments themselves do not bother me so much. If I was so fragile as to fall to pieces every time some macho brute shot his mouth off, I'd be in Belleview by now. It's the immediate rush by so many to defend him that's troubling.

The comments on ESPN's Web site and the Miami CBS affiliate were appalling. The CBS site also was running a poll in which the responses that Hardaway was "speaking the thoughts of most Americans" or that his remarks took great courage were garnering about 45 percent of the vote before it disappeared from the site. The Lone Star Times' Jeremy Weidenhof says thus about Hardaway:

Well, sir, now you have done it. You would have been better off beating up your coach, getting involved in a bar shooting, insulting Christianity, or any other approved method for publicity, but saying that you hate a favored group is just too much. No doubt you will be sent to a re-education camp forthwith to get your mind right.
And here are a few sample comments following that:
He was being honest. Some people just can’t handle the truth.

They ask the guy a question. He gave them an honest answer...I don’t really want to be around gay guys either, if one is hired where I work I will enteract
(sic) with that person only to the degree that is required to get my job done. I don’t have to like them and I sure as hell don’t have to hang out with them after work.

I understand about the “seeing me nekkid in front of a gay” part. Heck, I undressed and showered in gym in highschool
(sic) and found out my friend was a dyke (10 years later when it was PC) I was PISSED!!!
Unfortunately, this seems to be indicative of what I'm seeing in the majority of spots today, and these are downright sugar compared to what I could dig out of FreeRepublic. I don't have the stomach for that right now.

Let's be clear, here. Hardaway didn't say that he thinks homosexuality is a sin, that he's opposed to gay marriage or anything like that. He flat out said he hates gay people. And very few seem willing to repudiate that. So much for the "love the sinner, hate the sin" platitude.

This seems to be par for whenever any kind of story comes up that has any sort of gay angle. I recall recently when two men were beaten with a pipe while on vacation in the Caribbean, the Freeper take on it was largely on the side of the pipe-wielding thug because, obviously, the guys provoked him with public displays of affection.

Back when I covered daily news in Texas, I was working on a story about twin bills in the state legislature seeking to ban adoptions by gay couples as well as blocking them from becoming foster parents. I talked to a certain state representative--I'm tempted to say his name, but I won't--who gave me little more than a few standard "I think marriage is between a man and a woman" response. Later, he told someone else at the paper that he really thought the bills were crap, but he didn't want to go on the record in what could be deemed an action supportive of homosexuality. No doubt, if any of those bills had come up for a vote, his would have been "aye."

What this all tells me is that there really is a pretty frightening large group out there who downright despises gays or doesn't care enough to stand up when it counts. It makes me wonder how far they would take it. If the pendulum ever swung far enough to the right and people started introducing legislation in certain states dictating that homosexuality should be a capital offense, how difficult would it be to stop? Don't think it's that far-fetched. It's an opinion voiced by Alabama former Chief Justice Roy Moore, a hero to many on the right.

Even if that's an extreme jump, I don't think a lot of those commenters, many of whom have never met anyone who is gay, understand the levels of hate that could be encountered anywhere. That includes here in New York. A few weeks ago, my roommate and I were eating some late night pizza in the Times Square area, and several burly guys stood by our table making comments about how gross we were and how we were about to start kissing. We were eating pizza and talking. Nothing more. Somehow, our very presence threatened them,

Let me clear up another misconception, too, regarding this "showering with the homo" issue. I can speak only for myself, but I can honestly say that I find maybe 1 percent of the population or so attractive. So, fearful commenters, your chances are pretty good that I wouldn't give you a second look on the street, much less want to peer at anything in the shower.

As for Hardaway's statement taking courage, that's about the most offensive comment of all. If anything takes courage, it's facing that kind of hatred. Courage is the guy in my high school who was called a faggot while the teachers looked the other way, culminating in one white supremacist student--who later became a local police officer, I might add--beating him to a pulp. Courage is another friend of mine from the area who spoke out against the recent marriage amendment in the local paper, knowing it would out him countywide in a place where the aforementioned bully could get a job as a law enforcer. Courage is my parents, who have stood by me no matter what sort of whispers and insults they have to endure.

Saying you hate a group of people you've never met, however, is not courage. And neither, for that matter, is typing that same sentiment with pork-rind-stained fingers while wedged behind a home PC.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Gay dating in the styx (part 3)

The beauty of following this page through StatCounter is that I can tell which posts get read more than others, and let me tell you, people love my misery. So, in honor of Valentine's Day, I've decided to make my horrible date stories a regular occurrence. Here are parts One and Two. And if this scares off any potential suitors, have no fear. I have plenty of material to keep me busy before I get anywhere near the New York stories. And as you'll see in this one, I'm not always the hapless victim. Sometimes I'm just as bad as the date in question.

One other note: I was asked why I say "in the styx" rather than the grammatically correct "in the sticks." It's just a play on words I've always used meaning "on the path to hell," as in the mythological river or listening to "Mr. Roboto," and is not used exclusively to denote any particular area or geography.

In my early years of coming out for the second time, near the end of my college career, I had no idea how to go about getting dates. I wasn't out to any friends who would go with me to clubs, and I certainly didn't want to go alone. So like any confused boy, I turned to the Internet. I knew nothing of the major dating sites like, so through a Lycos search--there was an age before Google, ya know--I found some bizarre little chat room. My entire time there, I saw only one other person in the Houston portion of that room: Eric.

Eric and I initially talked only over the phone, and I was too inexperienced to tell the warning signs, namely that we couldn't maintain a conversation. The pauses were interminable. Once I literally sat on the phone for about 10 minutes without either of us saying a word only to find out later that Eric had fallen asleep while on the phone with me.

Apparently, I was desperate enough for attention at this point to find this scintillating enough for an in-person meeting. He was less out than I was, so the only place we could possibly meet was my apartment. Upon first glance, I knew he wasn't my type, but I prolonged it for several dates, not knowing how to do any better. Eric, however, informed me that he was falling in love, so thus began the birth of passive aggressive Mike, my true initiation to the gay community.

Justified or not, Eric's increasing clinginess frightened me. My attempts to cut things off the traditional gay way--just not returning phone calls, which came frighteningly natural to me--only intensified those calls and frightened me more. I became a bit paranoid. So I took the passive aggressiveness to embarrassingly unprecedented levels.

A helpful friend, someone we might now call an enabler, and I went as far as to create false identities on ICQ (Remember ICQ? The AOL IM of its time? Does it even still exist?) in order to feed him horrid information about me in an effort to get him to break it off with me. Somehow, this scheme that Lucy Ricardo would have said was taking things too far went off without a hitch, and he never called again. When I finally started to go to clubs, I often found myself looking over my shoulder the first few months. Never mind the logic that would indicate clubs would be the last place a heavily closeted person would be seen.

I should also mention that another dear friend also tried to talk sense into me and get me to handle things in a more direct manner and has since been a great source of encouragement as I try to suppress this passive aggressive side. And I mostly have, but not before building up some seriously bad karma. As I'll go into next time, it came back to haunt me sooner than I expected.

Late-season acupuncture

There's always a certain point at a party, right before it's time to go home, when everybody's buzz is wearing off and conversations lull. That's also always the point when someone makes an extremely late appearance, coming in with bubbly conversation that no one wants to hear and making you feel obligated to stay a half hour or so longer than you want.

That's how I feel about winter this year. Throughout December and January, I really wanted a nice snow, and the spinkles we saw then were pretty pathetic. But by the time this blizzard thing came last night, I'm over it. Plus, this isn't a nice, fluffy little snow. This is driving sleet accompanied by winds strong enough to upturn my umbrella while its still closed.

And it hurts. For you southerners, walking through strong sleet is about like a faceplant into a cactus, as those pointy ice crystals batter your skin. So go home, winter. It's closing time.

Oh, and I realize it's Valentine's Day, so I'll be back with an appropriately uplifting story later.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A plug for a plug

Although he hardly needs my help, I must give yet another shout-out to Eric at Southern Boy for his fantastic interview (it took me forever to find the permalink button on there!) and equally fantastic accompanying photo now featured on Best Gay Blogs. And it's not just because of the lovely things he said about yours truly.

I myself have finally registered there and have noticed some additional traffic as a result, so welcome to all who are here for the first time! If you like me and link to me, I'll almost always reciprocate, so long as you're not from or the like.

And speaking of which, I've added two more links. First up is the erudite Kim's Breathing Space. Thanks to the anonymous world of blogging, I'm not sure if we actually know each other or not, but either way, she was kind enough to add me to her blogroll, so I'm more than happy to do the same. The other is a new blog by one of my hometown heroes, Mary Ruth Rhodenbaugh. Loyal readers (all 20 of you!) might recall my being rather upset several months ago when someone in my home county opined about how women should not be allowed to be county commissioners. Well, I'm happy to say that way of thinking lost and that Mary Ruth is rightly on the Brazoria County Commissioner's Court today.

If I may get serious for a moment, I might joke and kvetch about my hometown on occasion, but it's still my hometown. I'll go into more detail about that paradox another time, but for now, I'll just say I'm glad there are people like Mary Ruth there who make it a better place. You could never know a gentler, more selfless soul.

Glorious moments in paparazzidom

Two photos in the Daily News gave me pause this morning.

First, the "exclusive" look inside Anna Nicole Smith's refrigerator. Wow! In addition to the methadone, there was yogurt, Slim Fast, and Worcestershire sauce, all detailed with little scribbles identifying each item. Enthralling! I can't wait for the exclusive look in her pantry so I can see her cans of Pam, Spaghetti-Os and Tuna Helper mixes next to the cases of ipecac.

More exciting, however, was a photo of Britney Spears exiting her limo after vomiting inside of it. The caption made sure to note the stain on her pants from it. It also seemed to indicate that photographers got a shot of the pile of puke as "evidence."

Even getting punched by Angelina Jolie has to be better than this.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Await and drink!

Following its highly praised run of "Awake and Sing!" last season, the Belasco Theatre is now housing another theatrical treasure from the early 20th Century. R.C. Sherriff's "Journey's End," last seen on Broadway during the pre-war Roosevelt administration, is now in previews at the theatre in preperation for a Feb. 22 opening.

The play takes place entirely in a gritty dugout underneath the British military's trenches at Saint-Quentin, France during World War I. The officers, including first-in-command Capt. Stanhope (Hugh Dancy) housed there are waiting through the unsettling quiet prior to an imminent German offensive that all know is just days away. Stanhope hasn't had much of a break from the trenches in three years, and as a result, is volatile and drinking heavily. The fatherly second-in-command, Lt. Osborne (Boyd Gaines) is one of the few who can give him comfort, but the recent addition of a worshipful childhood friend, 2nd Lt. Raleigh (Stark Sands) gives Stanhope renewed concern about what the war made him become.

The fresh-faced Raleigh is surprised upon arrival with the slow pace in the trenches, thinking that war meant nonstop frenzy and battles. The waiting, however, is the most mentally difficult part, so much that one officer, 2nd Lt. Trotter (John Ahlin) takes to filling in circles on a chart to mark every hour of the six-day stay the men have in the trenches.

As such, the play is largely dependent on suspense and tension, and David Grindley's direction, straight from a successful run of the show in London, masters that in the show pacing. One of the most enthralling scenes involves Raleigh and Osborne trying to relax in idol chitchat in the final minutes leading up to a dangerous mission. Nothing that they're saying is of any substance, yet it's entrancing because of the quiet countdown going on in the back of the two men's minds.

Despite being something of a prototype for the later deluge of war dramas, "Journey's End" still seems fresh and free of cliches. Yes, some of the characters are what later became war script stereotypes -- the cowardly 2nd Lt. Hibbert (Justin Blanchard), the somewhat indifferent Colonel (Richard Poe) and the shabby cook Private Mason (Jefferson Mays) -- but even they don't seem so here. More remarkable is the lack of a villain. Even the opposing German army is treated sympathetically here, as Osborne talks about their assistance as the British tried to remove a wounded man from the trenches.

Obviously, this show should find a new resonance thanks to the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. That largely will be the projection from the audience, however. Sherriff, himself a World War I veteran, might not have been a big fan of war, but "Journey's End" is more of an acknowledgement of the horrors of war on which people taking any side of the debate should be able to agree.

The cast assembled here is first-rate, particularly Broadway veteran Gaines and up-and-coming star Dancy. Gaines is a solid, dignified presence, and Dancy is equally fiery and fragile as the tortured leader. All the principals excel at the appropriately layered performance of the surface light-heartedness and the underlying anticipation. This particularly stands out following the scene in which one of the characters dies, and the action jarringly jumps to a raucous and bawdy celebration in the dugout. The melancholy beneath the occasion is obvious to the audience even if it isn't to Raleigh.

There were a few accent inconsistencies among some American cast members that easily should be worked out by the end of previews. The set is appropriately dank and dark. From a technical standpoint, the show also is in great shape. It's quite telling that a few beats stretching for several minutes, including the distressing ending, are carried successfully by little more than lighting and sound effects to an actorless stage. The curtain call also is handled in a way as to not break the tension reached by the play's end.

It's been a tough season for straight plays. Star power (see "The Vertical Hour") and good reviews (see "The Little Dog Laughed") have done little to help shows find an audience. If there's any justice however, "Journey's End" should last long enough for a new generation to discover a superb interpretation given to a nearly century-old classic.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ideal, yes, but there's no coasting about it

It's been more than a week since I saw the final part of Tom Stoppard's epic trilogy "The Coast of Utopia," now playing in repertory at the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center, and I still haven't been able to put together a coherent review. In retrospect, I should have approached it piece by piece, because the entire trilogy is so vast, even straight summary would be more paragraphs than most would be willing to read on an humble blog. Nonetheless, I'm still gonna try.

At a cursory glance, the first part of the trilogy, "Voyage," is deceptive. It makes it seem it seem as if this will be the story of the whiny moocher Michael Bakunin (Ethan Hawke) and his upper class family in 19th Century Russia, but his arc, as it turns out, is merely a supporting role in the true core of the story, philosopher and muckraker Alexander Herzen (Brian F. O'Byrne).

I'll stop with the plot summary there, because as I said, it's truly immense. With the exception of Hawke, O'Byrne and a few others, the 30-something strong cast, including many headlining players, rotate through a variety of roles during the decades covered by "Utopia," the final years of the oppressive system of serfdom and censorship in Russia. With each chapter, it took my brain about 15 minutes just to adjust to the scope of what I was seeing.

Once that happened, the work is truly magnificent of the raves it has received. Every piece of the production -- the costumes, the music, the lighting -- is stunning. And as always, Stoppard's use of language is nonpareil among modern playwrights.

The cast is consistently strong. Not surprisingly, O'Byrne has the gravitas to carry the show, but I would have gladly watched a show that centered on any of the supporting characters as well. Hawke is the perfect blend of angst and obnoxiousness as the moody, pushy Bakunin. Jennifer Ehle creates three great characters but particularly shines as Herzen's wife Natalie in the second part, "Shipwreck." Amy Irving, Martha Plimpton, Richard Easton, Billy Crudup, Patricia Conolly...all superb.

That's not to say this is easy to digest. Far from it, in fact. In fact, it's already found a fashionable detractor in the New York Times' Charles Isherwood, who bravely authored a piece last weekend calling the trilogy a bore. The synopses handed out with the Playbills help, but it does seem a bit daunting to have to cram before the curtain. And I'll admit the endless philosophizing in grand speeches does get tiresome. My mind wandered more than once. At one point in third part, "Salvage," as a long lost friend came to visit Herzen, he immediately launched into one such speech, and I silently said thanks that I left behind such incessant and self-important thinkers in college. should one see this show? Honestly, I don't think I would have the constitution to make it through one of the marathon performances in which all three segments are performed over about an eight-hour span, with breaks in between, of course. I think those are pretty much sold out, anyway. I don't regret having bought individual tickets for each segment, as this was a good choice for my once-every-few-months full-price splurge (good luck finding discounts on this one).

The common advice I've heard is that if one could see only one part, to see "Voyage." I disagree. "Shipwreck" had the most impact for me. The story of Herzen's family is the most intriguing and satisfying of the arcs, and most of it takes place in "Shipwreck." "Voyage" left me wanting more, so I think it alone would be a bit of a tease. And "Salvage," while strong, probably would make the least sense standing alone, as Herzen is already a defeated man when it begins. Plus, seeing the third part only would deprive a theatregoer of seeing Irving and Crudup, neither of whom are even in "Salvage."

But I hope no one lets the enormity, weighty subject matter and syllabus-style suggested reading lists for this show be a detterent from seeing this. An undertaking like this is a theatrical rarity, even in New York. And even if every syllable is not understood, it's still not difficult to appreciate the beauty of great performances, solid production values and Stoppard's delicious language.

Back when 'hoochie koochie' didn't mean, um, that

As I'm still gathering my final thoughts on "The Coast of Utopia" trilogy, I need to give a quick mention to a quiet little show running for just a few more days Off-Broadway.

I finally made it out to see "Meet Me In St. Louis" at the Irish Repertory Theater, and what a gem! Nothing flashy, nothing ironic -- just a couple of hours of pure escapism. Certainly, much of my enjoyment came with my familiarity with the film, but so what? After all, it was enough to make "Mary Poppins" an enjoyable experience, and this show didn't need disappearing hat racks or top-of-the-proscenium tap dances to pull it off.

The show, for anyone who has not seen the film -- and hand in your gay card, please, if that's the case -- centers around the Smith family in St. Louis at the turn of the century leading up to the World's Fair. The crises that the family faces are docile enough to make "Little House on the Prairie" look like something Norman Lear wrote. Will dad allow dinner to be postponed so daughter Rose can have a phone call from a boy in peace? Will a young man get his tuxedo from the tailor in time to make it to the ball? Will the family have to move to New York?

Therein lies the charm, however. The earnestness is refreshing during a theatre season in which so many shows want to wink at you the whole time.

The cast is mostly excellent, and Bonnie Fraser (daughter Esther, immortalized by Judy Garland in the film) is a particularly winning presence. The music is handled by a three-piece orchestra and is the perfect backdrop the the unamplified cast, although a few actors were difficult to hear from my Row J seat. They do well by the show's four famous songs: the title song, "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The period costumes are lovely and the choreography appropriately homey albeit a little crowded on the small stage at times.

I certainly can understand why the show struggled in its lone Broadway outing in the late 1980s (in which Charlotte Moore, the director of this production, starred as Mrs. Smith). Making this show grand would only amplify its weaknesses, making those moth holes from its age all the more apparent. I can only imagine how silly some of the big dance numbers, like the square dance near the end of Act I, would seem with a large ensemble treatment. But in an intimate setting, it seems timeless.

The production itself is not, however. "Meet Me in St. Louis" closes a week from Sunday, so you'll have to hurry to catch this trolley before it leaves the station. And you wouldn't want Esther mad at you, now would you? Why, she might trick you into dancing with someone unattractive, throw flour in your face or something equally devilish.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Another nail in the coffin of nuance

A few months ago, I mentioned my admiration for Leonard Pitts Jr. while lamenting the lack of decent columnists around anymore (one less, in fact, with the recent death of Molly Ivins). Unfortunately not only are writing skills no longer a requirement to be a published columnist, apparently neither is understanding of basic facts.

Let's take today's column by Larry Elder, entitled "Global Warming Turns People 'Gay'" -- got to love how World Net Daily always has to put the word gay in quotation marks, by the way. It begins as such:

Global warming alarmists – despite their best efforts – seem incapable of convincing the Bush administration. So here's my suggestion. Make the scientists tell the president that global warming turns people gay.

The idea came to me after seeing a Super Bowl Snickers commercial and learning of the "controversy" that followed it. In the ad, two guys chewing on either end of the candy bar inadvertently touch lips. Shocked, they decide to do something "manly" and demonstrate their heterosexuality. How? They pull down their shirts and rip off their chest hairs. A pro-gay-rights group called the ad homophobic and demanded the Snickers people stop showing it. Clearly, America runs rampant with gay-haters.

So, imagine if scientists simply told Bush that global warming made people gay.

On the surface, it's a surrealist premise that doesn't even work, an attempt to tie together two news stories that have nothing to do with one another without providing sufficient reason why. It's kind of like my beginning directing project in college, in which I spliced together footage of Dali paintings and scenes from "Carrie" to a Natalie Merchant song. I scored well on it at the time, but looking back now, I wonder, "Why in the hell did I ever do that?"

More problematic, however, is the fact that the opening assertion is absolutely wrong.

The furor over the Snickers campaign was never about that one individual commercial. If Elder had bothered to pay attention to the story, he would have realized that most had no problem with the commercial until seeing the additional material Mars put around the promotion on its Web site. In addition to showing footage of football players acting repulsed when seeing the original commercial, it also provided an alternate ending in which the men reacted to the accidental kiss by drinking motor oil and one beating the other senseless with a wrench.

Alas, however, we now must be able to boil everything down to one sentence. Gay groups thought a Snickers ad was homophobic. Al Gore said he invented the Internet. Record cold temperatures on one day in Michigan prove that global warming is a hoax.

None of those sentences accurately describes its respective situation, but I guess they all make great thesis statements, eh, Larry?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why I live in New York

First of all, a hearty congrats to Southern Boy for marking his first year of official blogdom yesterday (and happy birthday to my one-weekend dog Xander today). It also made me realize that yesterday was exactly one year after I started my current job here in New York, which got me thinking over the benefits I've reaped since moving here:

1) I've lost somewhere between 30 and 40 pounds. I've never really been overweight per se, but a few years of lethargy in South Jersey and Texas had put a few extra blobs on me in unpleasant places. By and large, those are gone now. Part of it was an overhaul to my diet this summer and cutting down on sodas, no doubt. Most of the credit, however, can be attributed to the facts that I have to walk about a mile and a half every day just for commuting purposes, that I live in a six-story walkup and that I no longer grocery shop as if I'm stockpiling for a nuclear winter, which would be impossible for a guy who can't afford weekly delivery services.

2) I now have more non-coworkers friends than I've had since my college years. Making good friends outside of the office as an adult is quite difficult when you move to a new city, but it seems to be much easier here. On a related note, I've also been able to date a lot more, and it's easier to avoid drunken karaoke maulers and under-the-table pot deals at IHOP.

3) I've been able to see more theatre, concerts, cabaret acts and comedy shows in the last year than I probably have in my lifetime up to this point. What's more, I rarely have to pay full price anymore, now that I don't have to plan far ahead in my theatre-going. And, when I see a clunker, it doesn't feel like I've wasted anything more than a couple of bucks and a few hours, rather than an entire day trip.

4) Always having plenty else to do, I've watched less television than I ever have in my entire life. I couldn't tell you a thing about any new shows that debuted this season. And I'm rather happy with that ignorance.

5) Random celebrity encounters no longer impress me, although I will admit it was kind of fun seeing Al Sharpton through the window of some tobacco shop in midtown last weekend.

I could go on -- and I could also mention that I've paid more in rent than I did my entire three or fours years for housing in Texas that was not supported by parents or scholarships -- but that's enough rationalization for now to convince me that I should, indeed, stay here for a while.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I've frosted my hair before, but this is ridiculous

Last night, I went to the gym for a quick workout before my chorus rehearsal. After stepping out of the shower, I realized that horror of horrors, I'd forgotten my hair gel. I blow-dried my hair and styled it as best I could and left for a quick soup and salad before rehearsal. Without gel, I knew I had to keep my hat off for the short walk or else my hair would be uncontrollable for the rest of the night.

As I was walking to the restaurant, I started to get a horrible headache, like when you eat ice cream too fast. I reached up and felt clumps in my hair, like some sort of phantom gel that had come to take the place of the product I had forgotten. It wasn't until I was inside the restaurant that I realized it was ice.

That's right. In a matter of blocks, the residual dampness from my shower had literally frozen my hair to my head.

I'd never make it in the Midwest.

Monday, February 05, 2007

One for the humor morgue

A quick request: Can we please, please, please have a moratorium on jokes about how many presidential candidates there are?

It's already the late-night punchline du jour along with the subject of countless editorial cartoons (including the one in the Daily News today). But honestly. I remember the same jokes from four, eight, twelve, etc. years ago, and they weren't that funny then. You might as well be drawing cartoons about airplane food or VCR programming difficulties.

It's even less funny when you think: There really aren't that many candidates. Tossing aside the joke candidates and the impossible long shots, there's a handful on each side. So the jokes are more routine, like the inevitable Black Friday or day-after-Christmas returns story that inevitably appear in every paper each year, rather than based on any reality.

So I pronounce these jokes as dead as the Chuck Norris ones.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Embracing my inner lesbian

I'm still organizing my thoughts on "The Coast of Utopia," so meanwhile, I wanted to mention the concert put on by the Brooklyn Philharmonic last night: Four-Scored, featuring Nellie McKay, Laurie Anderson, Suzanne Vega and Joan Osborne.

It was a great lineup with all four performing sets just long enough to keep me wanting a lot more. Yes, some might shrug this off at a casual glance as Lilith Fair redux, but truly, the disparate styles of all four couldn't have complemented one another better.

McKay is quickly becoming one of my favorite performers. I saw her last year in the "Threepenny Opera" revival without knowing much about her and enjoyed her performance--thinking of her as kind of a more musical Sarah Silverman, a pretty, petite girl whose great at firing off quirky non-sequiturs. Since then, I've slowly become acquainted with her "Get Away From Me" album and love every bizarre, driving song. From what I heard last night, "Pretty Little Head" is another winner, and I'll definitely be picking it up soon.

I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not really that familiar with Anderson, but her set--all brand new stuff--was a great contrast to the rest of the night. Haunting and lovely.

Vega's voice has gotten only better with time, and it was a treat hearing some of my favorites with the philharmonic orchestrations. Of particular note was one--I can't recall the name, and I really wish they had given us a set list in the program--with a new Philip Glass arrangement. Gorgeous. "Marlene on the Wall" also was superb.

Finally, I really like where Osborne's style has migrated over the years. She performed from her upcoming album, and it has a great Motown, funky feel to it. I'd recommend picking it up when it comes out as well (April, I think she said?).

Oh, and McKay might not have played my favorite "Inner Peace," and Osborne might have stayed far away from "One of Us," but by God, Vega played "Tom's Diner." They mentioned last night that the actual Tom's Diner was written about Tom's Restaurant in Morningside Heights, the same one which "Seinfeld" used as the exterior for its omnipresent Monk's Cafe. Fun fact! At least now I know to what "the bells of the cathedral" line refers.