Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 December 2009

Five Most Influential

My friend Michael Stablein Jr. asked me, for a lark, what I thought were the most influential forces in USAmerican theatre today. Michael's five were:
1. The Group
2. Eugene O'Neill
3. Richard Foreman
4. The Shubert Family
5. Robert Wilson
My list is a little more recent than Michael's, and I think a little less New-York-centric, but only because I didn't repeat any of Michael's in the interest of fun:
1. Tony Kushner
2. Jerzy Grotowski
3. Augusto Boal
4. Anna Deavere Smith
5. Theatre Communications Group
I sent the game to a couple of my friends and they came up with a few more fun names. Anne added:
1. Anne Bogart
2. Elizabeth LeCompte
3. The New York Times
Josh's five were:
1. BAM
2. Robert Wilson
3. Suzan-Lori Parks
4. Humana Festival
5. Stephen Sondheim
Liz liked all of our lists and had one additional name to throw into the pot:
1. Julie Taymor
And Mark rounded out the group with another four:
1. Adam Guettel
2. Sam Shepard
3. Music Theatre International
4. Little Theatre Movement
I think Adam Guettel is a bit of an exaggeration, personally, and it's a little ridiculous that no one has mentioned Paula Vogel. I am also not that big a fan of Parks and I think she is less influential than she appears to be, so I wouldn't have her on the list. What do YOU think, dear reader?

30 December 2009

2 1/2

If I am honest, I will tell you that I do not love all of Fellini's films. I am not crazy about Amarcord, really, and I couldn't really get into 8 1/2 even though it has some very cool stuff in it.

I have decided, however, that I do not like Rob Marshall's films. This evening I saw the newest one, Nine, and I was... well... in a word: bored.

And now, nine thoughts on Nine, because it seems fitting:

1. Rob Marshall is known for making musicals. He made the Best-picture-winning Chicago, which supposedly rehabilitated the movie musical. And yet, both that movie and his newest star-studded musical, are constantly apologizing for being musicals. The man is sold as the best thing to ever happen to the movie musical, but his films appear to wish that they were not musicals. Instead of happening in the stories of his movies, musical numbers in Marshall's films always happen in characters' imaginations. We are forced to leave behind the world of the film and enter into the hyper-make-believe world of the musical itself. So the films actively reinforce the idea that musicalness is phony, that emotions that could only be expressed in song are just too unrealistic to be a part of real life, and yet the film cannot seem to make the "real-life" scenes as realistic or as interesting as its musical numbers, and it seems to be ashamed of its stock-in-trade. We all came to see Nine, in fact (or stayed away, as the case may be), because it is a musical. Yet the film constantly tries to make us forget the fact.

2. I know this is cinema. I know that we need movie stars to make people come to the movies. But how about making a movie star out of someone who is also a great singer? The casting in Nine is very clever and very cosmopolitan (Australia, Spain, Italy, Britain, France, and the U.S. are all represented), the actresses are all fabulous. Honestly. But this movie needed singers. Bad. And that goes for Mr. Day-Lewis, as well.

3. Nicole Kidman is my favorite thing in the picture. She is gorgeous and she has a couple of really fabulous scenes where she talks about women in film, fantasy, and basically what it means to be an actress. It's really fascinating. It's intercut with a musical number, which kind of gets in the way, and it's really the first (and only time) where I was sorry there was a musical number to interrupt a real-life scene.

4. Marshall sort of teases the audience with Fellini references. Sometimes these are fun, and sometimes not that interesting. I really wished Nicole Kidman had gotten in the fountain and done an homage to La Dolce Vita.

5. Penélope Cruz is delightful. A great actress. She is engrossing and compelling in all of her scenes. The film isn't really all that interested in her in the end, but I was rather sorry it wasn't.

6. Dion Beebe knows how to light a movie, let me tell you. You probably already knew that, of course, but it bears repeating. The musical sequence after the screening room scene is absolutely extraordinary.

7. You cannot expect a love story to emerge out of nowhere. We are not going to be attached to Contini's wife if all she does is sit around and look sad and miss him and be angry that he missed her birthday. Particularly if the man's mistress is as much fun as Penélope Cruz is in this movie.

8. The best musical number in the film is Fergie's song "Be Italian." It's fun, it's sexy, and there's sand everywhere.

9. What is this movie about? Why is there singing and dancing? Does Contini (the main character) make musical films? Why isn't any of this explained? Is it because he loved the Folies-Bergère as a kid? I don't get it. Nine, more than anything else, is interested in the derrières of its female stars and extras. This is fine, certainly (Fellini was a breast man, of course, but that's just picking nits), but the movie--like the filmmaker the movie is about--cannot decide what its story is. Is it a movie about a man's love for his wife? Is it about his relationship with his mom? Is it a movie about movie-making (8 1/2 certainly was.)? Or is it a movie about buttocks? A movie about buttocks is a good idea, I think, but if Nine is about that, we need to dump all of the other baggage. For a film that seems to understand that female movie stars act as fantasies for male viewers, it spend a lot of time investing in those fantasies.

P.S. The title of this post is out of five.

27 December 2009

The Class

I finally saw last year's Cannes winner Entre les Murs (The Class). And I loved it.

The reason it took me so long to sit down and pop this DVD in is that I thought The Class was gonna be one of those good-white-teacher-comes-into-troubled-area-with-lots-of-urban-kids dramas that purport to be inspirational but are actually predictable, tiresome, clichéd, and almost always more than a little racist.

The Class isn't any of those things. In fact, The Class is profound. It's about education in France and the real struggles that teachers go through. It's also about the fundamental quandaries of education: like the power differential inherent in the very model of pedagogy, and the question of why students should learn the things we want to teach them.

This movie is totally fascinating. There are protracted sequences where we literally just watch François Bégaudeau teach a class of students about verb tenses or Anne Frank. And you might think these sequences would be boring. They're not. They are positively riveting. The teacher goes from question to question answering, helping, assisting the students in their own teaching. It's superb, really.

I know this movie is a year old and I am sorry it has taken me so long to get to it. I loved The Class so much that I am moving it to #4 on my list for 2008.

22 December 2009

Zac Efron and Orson Welles

I wasn't really bored by Me and Orson Welles so much as I am not quite sure what the whole thing was about.

As far as I can tell, Me and Orson Welles was one long theatre joke. The film is about a young aspiring performer who gets serendipitously cast as a minstrel in Welles' legendary 1937 modern-dress production of Julius Caesar. Christian McKay plays Welles, and actors play Joseph Cotton and John Houseman and all kinds of other famous people. In addition, about a billion names are dropped in the film. So many, in fact, that you'd have to be a theatre historian to get all of the references in Me and Orson Welles. I might be exaggerating a bit, but my point is that the film trades on theatre and movie in-jokes and does so with a wink.

(To be fair, one of my favorite moments in the movie is a reference to The Third Man where Joseph Cotton steps out of the shadows to give Zac Efron some advice.)

So, Zac Efron. I love him. The thing is, he is kinda... well... bad in this movie. I mean, he is cute, he steals focus, you always look at him when he is onscreen, even when he isn't in the center of the frame. But, he doesn't always know how to read his lines. And he doesn't quite know how to get a laugh. Oh, well. He is pretty, anyway.

Me and Orson Welles is a weird Richard Linklater film. It is a whimsical little thing with very little substance. Watching Orson Welles chew scenery is fun, and theatre jokes are cute, but the whole thing had worn rather thin for me by the end.

I should mention, however, that James Tupper, who plays Joseph Cotton, gives a really great performance. He was my favorite thing in the movie.

18 December 2009

Book of Ours

I met my friend Tavi Gonzalez at the conference ReThinking Sex last March in Philadelphia.

And I was delighted to learn that he has published a chapbook of poetry entitled The Book of Ours. It is published through Momotombo Press.

I was particularly fond of parts two and three of the book. Part two begins with the passage:
my friend
whose tongue I've tasted
in every vernacular
One of my favorite poems in the book is one entitled Soliloquy #3 which contains the following:

the territorial arc of my arms
wrapped around you like a damp down
comforter. not even warm
much less—comfortable

tell me when does this language describe
an actual love affair...
Anyway, you should check out his book!

16 December 2009

Single Men

I really loved Tom Ford's first movie A Single Man. I have heard people say that it is too ponderous, too slow, too pretty, and (even) too gay, but I don't buy any of those criticisms. I found it totally engrossing, erotic, and beautiful. I think it is going to be one of my favorite movies of the year, actually.

I think it is important that we remember, also, that this is Tom Ford's first film. He is not a filmmaker, or at least, hasn't been one for long.

A Single Man is about a day in the life of a gay man (Colin Firth) who has lost his longterm boyfriend (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. The film is about grief and loss, mostly, but also--and this is very important, A Single Man is about memory and the ways that memories surge up within the present, how the past is still alive as we interact in the present. We cannot escape memory, and absence, in this film, is as present as the moment in which the main character is currently living.

The film, then, spends a lot of time in memories, and in exploring specific perspectives--like staring at a woman's lips, or at a naked torso. Sometimes the character is simply overwhelmed with grief and the film attempts to capture only the sensation of drowning. It is a bold, fascinating experiment. And I loved it.

A Single Man is very gay. A part of its project is to explore the lack of validation our culture gives to longterm homosexual relationships. Much of the film is also about beauty and how beauty can give us a reason for living after we have suffered much grief. (So the film dwells on the blue of a child's dress for longer than we might think important, or slows down the exhalation of smoke from an attractive man's lips in order to explore the beauty of such an image and the power of that beauty as a reason for being.) This could, I suppose, be called a gay aesthetic--a Wildean aesthetic--but I did not find this a distraction from the movie. I thought, rather, that the film was about these moments in a very important way.

I want to also mention that the film contains two of the best performances of the year, by both Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Firth is just brilliant, and Moore gives a fierce, searing performance. She tears into her role and what she comes up with is really extraordinary. To go back to Firth for a moment, the film is with him for almost its entirety, and we get so much from him, understand so much about him, that even when he is silent and brooding and not telling us what he is thinking, we understand.

If you haven't seen the documentary Chris & Don: a Love Story about Christopher Isherwood (who wrote the novel A Single Man) and his lover Don Bachardy, the films go very well together, and Ford's film reflects Isherwood's philosophies beautifully.

At any rate, I loved this film, and plan repeat viewings. I won't see it again this month--too many movies to see!--but I will definitely be watching A Single Man again.

And I really hope Tom Ford makes another film or two. This one is superb. And it is one of the most visually striking, inventive, and consistent first films I have ever seen.

15 December 2009

When Academia Is Silly

Aaron: I found the word that corporealize wishes it were: incarnate. Do the two differ? I love incarnate's blatant etymological associations with meat.
Tim: You may be right. *Sigh* All I wanted for Christmas was a justifiable neologism in my name.

Anne: But corporealize gives us this opportunity: (corpo)realize.
Tim: True, Anne! And that's way better than the weakly post-colonial (Inca)rnate.

13 December 2009

Big Eden (Insert Size-Queen Joke Here)

I really like Big Eden. This doesn't mean that I think it is a good movie. I do not. But, there are so few gay romantic comedies that end happily, that when I watch one the sheer joy of watching a representation onscreen that includes me takes over and I can forgive almost anything.

Big Eden follows a successful New York artist with an unspeakably gorgeous apartment named Henry. He returns back home to Montana to take care of his ailing granddad. From here, hilarity and romance ensue. All of the people in the town conspire to hook Henry up with the Native American man who runs the corner store, Pike.
What Big Eden is smart about is that it contains a straight man in love with a gay man (although, of course, this love is inexplicable, as Henry is really rather boring and closety). My friend David and I talk about how sometimes a straight man falls in love with a gay man, but doesn't know what to do with that. David and I have both had this happen to us. And the both of us can love each other very much, and sometimes this can be very confusing. We are not taught, in our culture, how to be in love with people with whom we don't have sex. Anyway, Big Eden contains one of these relationships. Henry doesn't handle it well at all (it is, in fact, not an easy thing to handle) but then the film doesn't interrogate why he handles it poorly or how he could have handled it differently. Still, I was grateful for this storyline. (Chris Mason Johnson's The New Twenty tries to go toward this territory, but gets too involved in its interest in business machinations that no one cares about.)

The real nonsense of Big Eden, though, is that the film is really interested in telling us how great it is to live in a small town. There is literally no homophobia in Big Eden. Every single person, including the elderly, is completely accepting of gay people. And here is the rub, it is Henry himself who is not being honest about his sexuality. The small town is fine with gays, it is Henry who has (in this most accepting town in the universe) somehow internalized homophobia which forces him to hide his sexuality from his family and the rest of the town. Henry has to learn this lesson before he can truly accept himself, of course. He also has to learn the value of the small town, and how family is all that matters.

And I call bullshit. The reason we all move to the cities (and I know we don't all move to the cities, obviously) is because small town's aren't like Big Eden. Small town values, such as they are, consistently condemn difference of any kind, and gay people consistently tend to find community and family away from our biological families.

So Big Eden has an odd ideological project. I am not sure why Thomas Bezucha wants to convince us of how accepting small town USAmerica is. I mean, what good does that do? At any rate, I have no intention of abandoning urban life. Even if the love of my life is running the corner store in Clayton, New Mexico, I am never going to know because I am never going to live there. Make a note.

But please make more gay romantic comedies. I am starved for them. The more the better. I will see all of them. Even if they are ideologically insane.

12 December 2009


I have seen two absolutely great animated films in the last week. I actually don't have much to say about either movie, except that you need to see both of them

Fantastic Mr. Fox is the new Wes Anderson movie. It is also his best movie, if you ask me, since The Royal Tenenbaums. It is a tight little story, beautifully characterized. Jason Schwartzman is his typical anxious, delightful self--this time in the body of a young fox. The film is stop animation and is at times absolutely stunning, visually. It is also absolutely hilarious. It's frequently absurd, often bizarre, and at times completely nonsensical. I loved it.

The Princess and the Frog
is the new film from Ron Clements and John Musker, the guys who gave us Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Treasure Planet, and Hercules. I love all of their previous collaborations, obviously, and I loved this one too.
The Princess and the Frog is, of course, notable for several reasons: It is the first Disney princess movie with a black girl at its center. It also breaks from the Disney princess tradition of absent mothers. Tiana's mom is alive and well, and tells fun stories (and is played by, um, Oprah [!])
Another thing I loved about Princess/Frog was its constant attention to money. The film does not only extol the value of hard work, it steers clear of the sentimental trope of awarding money to two young people simply because they are in love. Tiana and Naveen get jobs after they fall in love and get married. They are a prince and a princess but they work, y'all.
Princess/Frog is really, really funny, too. The actor who plays Prince Naveen, Bruno Campos, has excellent timing, and he is hilarious throughout. Anika Noni Rose (who plays Tiana) has a fabulous voice, obviously (you should remember her from Caroline, or Change--for which girlfriend won the Tony--and the film version of Dreamgirls.) Randy Newman has written some delightful songs, and she sings them beautifully. The hand-drawn animation is gorgeous. The side characters are funny. The large amount of jazz in the score is fun, danceable, and always upbeat. The villain is Keith David!
I could go on and on about Princess/Frog, actually. I thought it was great. And I really hope Disney has already started on their next animated film with a black protagonist; Tiana is good enough that she deserves a little company.

When Life Gives You Lemons

Aaron: Ugh. Why did they do this to me? I feel like Precious right now.
Meghan: Want me to throw a television at you?

When My Friends I Are Mean and Filthy at the Same Time

Liz: She is terrified of you.
Aaron: She loves me and is terrified of me.
Liz: She fetishizes you.
Aaron: She masturbates with a giant black dildo while thinking about me.
Liz: She has a fleshlight for her microphallus.

07 December 2009

Summing Up 2009

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?
Worked out every single day for several months.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did. See above. And I will for next year too. I have a good feeling about 2010.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My nephew, Cruz Antonio Thomas, turns one year old on December 13th. That is not really answering the question, but I felt it was worth noting. I have pregnant friends, but no more nephews or nieces yet!

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes. My best friend from college took his own life in June. He was the love of my life. I don't know how else to put it. His death has really messed me up in a lot of ways. I miss him like crazy.

5. What countries did you visit?

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
A published article. Can somebody work that out for me? Thanks.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Saying goodbye to all of the graduates from my class at FSU in May was a rough, rough time. Those four or five days were killer.

The best day of 2009 was probably August 10th. I was in New York, and Ryan and I took the subway from midtown to the upper west side and met Vanya, Dave, Joe, Gretchen, Maria, Rick, Julie, Herman, Jaime, Kate, Rob, and Becky for dinner and drinks. We had THE BEST time. And I was with people I miss like a piece of my heart. New York was completely magical this year. I stayed with Wahima and Becca, Elizabeth visited while I was there, I ran into Brian at a random diner in Queens, I was reunited with my ATHE queers, I got to visit with Stinkylulu, I finally saw John again after 2 years, I went to the Stonewall Inn with Alison and Brent and Ryan and Liz and Cassidy, I saw a show and drank lots of beer with Julie. It was amazing.

I also spent a weekend in Seattle and a weekend in Lynchburg, Virginia this summer. Both were wonderful reunions with friends and fun road-trips.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Probably my production of Sarah Kane's Crave.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Keeping in better touch with my dearest friends.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Yes. I was completely depressed for the months of July, August, September, and October. It had probably been a long time coming. It has to do with my anxiety about my schooling and career, obviously, but I also think it had a lot to do with figuring out how to process Andy's death. I think I have moved out of that depression now, but I don't really have any idea how that happened.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My roommates Mark and Meghan; I am probably being oversentimental but they are just wonderful and I love living with them.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
The voters in Maine and the New York State Senate. I continue to be uninterested in fighting for gay marriage rights (it's just so bourgeois!), but whenever someone actually votes against gay marriage I get really pissed off. I continue to be baffled, interested, and confused by homophobia.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Books. And I am happy about that.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Crave. P90X. Dada (again).

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
Iron & Wine's "The Trapeze Swinger." I also listened endlessly to Nico Muhly's score for The Reader, and Philip Glass's The Concerto Project. The obvious (and gay) answer to this question, however, is Whitney Houston's "Million Dollar Bill."

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner
c) richer or poorer? Poorer, but two out of three ain't bad. Especially considering last year.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Watching movies. Traveling. Reading interesting theory.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Thinking about my work for Kris Salata. Reading theory about which I do not care.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
With my family in their new giant house in Monrovia CA, with my friends at Anna's new condo in Corona CA, with my friends at Linda and Matt's house in Culver City CA, and with my friends at Ashley and Danny's house in Echo Park CA.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
No way, man.

22. How many one-night stands?
Depending on the definition of the term, 2 or 3.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
The Wire. No question.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Oh yes. But I get new students every year, and inevitably one of them pisses me off to a point beyond redemption.

25. What was the best book you read?
I have a bunch for this year:
Lee Edelman: No Future
Lauren Berlant: The Female Complaint
David Savran: Taking It Like a Man
Pat Califia: Public Sex

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Is it weird that I don't really follow music at all? I guess I listened to a lot of Teddy Thompson this year. I am tentatively revisiting country music.

27. What was the best piece of theatre you saw?
A brilliant production of Pericles entitled Pericles Redux directed by John Farmanesh Bocca.
A genius reworking of ALW and Time Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar by Louis St. Louis and Darryl Jovan Williams entitled Jesus Christ Superstar GOSPEL, which played at the Alliance in Atlanta.
Also my friend Ryan did an adaptation/reimagining of Lear that I almost didn't have words for because it was so fucking good. (I found words, obviously, after a bit. But there was a while there where I could only just stare at people with my mouth open.)

28. What did you want and get?
A trip to Atlanta to see Kate and a trip to Virginia to see Michael and Natalie.

29. What did you want and not get?
A new car. Can someone get me one, please?

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
The year is far from over, but so far it is Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. Have you seen it yet?

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Most everyone was out of town for Spring Break, but Liz and Ryan took me to Clusters & Hops and made sure that a whole bunch of my friends were there, and it was really fun. I also made my own birthday cake (always a good idea.) I turned 28.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having more free time to spend with Jaime and John at their wedding.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
The only criterion for choosing a shirt is: Does it show off my new biceps?

34. What kept you sane?
Um, I didn't stay sane, so this question is not really applicable. But thank the Jesus for Pot Psychology. And David, Catie, John, Anthony, Ruth, Lane, and Andrés this summer.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?Eli Roth. He is hot.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.

37. Who did you miss?
Michael Fatica. Michael Stablein. Catie. Kate. Linda. Elizabeth. Ashley. Justin. Wahima. Danny. Rebecca. Jill. Jaime. Derek. Sarah. Anna. John. Joe. Julie. Ryan. Carrie Sandahl. Christina & Isaac. Greg.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Courtney Ward and Jeff Paden.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:
Hope doesn't always fulfill its promises; the future rarely falls out the way I see it in my head. But it doesn't matter, really. We must always choose hope. There is no point in living without it.

When Friends are Bad Influences

Catie: Again, I can always rely on you to call her a dumb/fat bitch and him a fat fuck. Or dumb fuck.
Aaron: You bring out the cruelty in me. Which is weird because you are nice.
Catie: You bring out the vulgar in me. Which is weird because you are classy.
Aaron: Hahaha.
Catie: What a team.

03 December 2009

When the Movie of Your Life Embarrasses You

Aaron: All of my roommates are having sex and I'm downstairs reading a play.
Mark: Oh, god. It's like A Home at the End of the World.
Aaron: Haha. I love that book. Have you read it?
Mark: I saw the movie.
Aaron: Ugh. It's awful.
Mark: It's a terrible movie. Terrible.
Aaron: Yeah. It really is bad. The book is so good, though.
Mark: That movie is so bad I'm pretty sure I stayed in the closet at least a year longer than I would have if I hadn't seen it.