— Busy busy. Busy writing, busy getting over a killer flu which laid me flat for five straight days. Dammit. I have spent the time sleeping, writing, binge-watching Supernatural (I’m only on season 3, don’t spoil it), and reading Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary which is so awesome that the top of my head explodes every time I read a damn paragraph. I’ll have more to say. But wow. I spent one very sick night, with a raw throat, and a box of Kleenex, googling “anarcho-syndicalism”, which is a rabbit hole of interest. See for yourself! So put Victor Serge together with Supernatural, and my mind is swarming with
1. ghosts/demons/hell hounds/super-hot-guys
2. dirty Bolsheviks huddled over a commandeered printing press

Supernatural Hot Guys


You know, looking at those images consecutively, it’s making a lot of sense. All are engaged in a fight to the death with a fearsome enemy. Or so I tell myself as I go from one to the other and back.

— Have had some great New York experiences recently.

— Went to the “Armory Show at 100” exhibit at the New York Historical Society (Holla, dead boyfriend!) with Mum, Siobhan and Ben. Many of the original works from the 1913 show were there, and the whole exhibit is beautifully done. The explanatory text on the walls really helps provide context for what you are seeing, the various warring factions in American and European art, and also how well thought-out the show was. The organizers wanted to bridge a gap between surrealism and the art movements of the past. They wanted to show that this new stuff, by folks like Matisse and Duchamp, etc., had roots. It was trying to educate. Of course the shit hit the fan in 1913, with critics being outraged at some of the surrealism (Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” being the most notorious). American artists were insecure at being shown up by the Europeans. Everyone argued about what the Armory Show meant. My mother, an artist herself, is encyclopedic in her knowledge of the Armory Show so it was so awesome to go to this exhibit with her. It was like having our own personal tour guide. A wonderful family afternoon.

— Saw Glass Menagerie on Broadway, with Cherry Jones, Zachary Quinto. I went with my friend Erik, who got tickets from Zachary, an old friend. The whole show is sold out until December, tickets are expensive, hard to come by. So this opportunity just fell into my lap. Thank you, Zachary, thank you, Erik! The seats Zachary got us were incredible: first row balcony. I would say if you are going to see the production, try to sit in the balcony if you can swing it. It gives the best perspective of the set, which you really need to look down on to get the full effect. The stage floor is covered by a thin layer of water, and I don’t know how they get the effects that they do. It really does seem like magic. Sometimes a small blue sliver of a moon rises up out of the water, or stars appear through the water, so that the entire set is floating in the sky. It’s an amazing effect, very innovative, and because this is a “memory play”, and Tom tells us that much in his opening monologue, the set seems to suggest that. And to see the actors silhouetted in the black water below them, as they sit at the kitchen table, or lean out over the fire escape … it’s to fall into the dream of the production. Here are a couple of examples of how the effect works.


Glass Menagerie Quinto

Cherry Jones was a bit too yell-y for my taste in the first act, especially because we know of how yell-y she’s going to get in the second. Her constant arguments with Tom are pitched high from the get-go which certainly serves as a reminder of why Tom felt the need to flee. But a little bit more modulation would have been welcome. It all starts to sound the same. The yelling, I mean. But her Amanda does hit all the right notes (something I cannot say for other actresses I have seen do the role). She understands Amanda’s humor, which is often deliberate and cunning. Amanda is not an idiot. Actresses who play her as an idiot should be ashamed of themselves. Her years as a floating debutante still live in her. She knows how to converse, she has great wit, great smarts, and her life has handed her a bum deal. But complaining is not good form, and Amanda has that knowledge in her DNA. When she is upset, it is not a complaint, but a scream of fear at the unknown. Her life as a young woman was silly and superficial and nothing prepared her for being abandoned by her charming husband. She is a skillful woman, she could sell ice to an Eskimo, but in her worst moments she operates from panic, and her grown children feel that. Cherry Jones could have worked the Southern Belle angle harder. Southern Belles don’t YELL all the time. The inner war could have been stronger, between her desire to yell and her understanding that yelling is not ladylike. I don’t agree with Ben Brantley that she gives a performance “for the ages”. I think it’s excellent but not transcendent. Zachary Quinto is terrific as Tom. You can feel that this is a man crawling out of his skin, living in too close quarters with his heckling mother and lame sister, and he just wants to bust out, get out, escape, run, run, run. We understand his need to run. But we also understand that his running will be a tragedy, not only for the sister he left behind but for him. The dynamic he has with his sister Laura (the miraculous Celia Keenan-Bolger) is amazing and something a lot of productions miss. These are siblings. Laura has no life outside that apartment, but she has grown up with Tom, she is comfortable with him, she teases him, she loves him, she takes care of him. And he recognizes her limitations, but he loves her, and is comfortable with her. They feel like siblings. Again, so many productions miss this ESSENTIAL quality, so eager are they to race to the tragedy of the end. Yes, it’s tragic. But life in that house was real, and Laura is a real person, not a literary construct, but a real girl, and you can’t skip over that part.

Gentleman Caller

And now we come to the reason to see the show and that is the Gentleman Caller scene. Believe the hype. It is a masterpiece. I mean, the scene itself is already a masterpiece on the page. But I’m talking about the acting of said scene. The Gentleman Caller is played by Brian Smith. I have seen the scene more times than I can count (in stage productions and, more often, in acting classes). The Gentleman Caller is often played as a semi-vain guy, oblivious to the undercurrents going on with this shy girl and how he is a part of it. He is often played as obliviously cruel, like good-looking high school stars are often cruel, but that’s not exactly what Williams wrote. Williams wrote something far more delicate, far more devastating. Brian Smith taps into what my great college acting teacher used to call “the pulse of the playwright” in his performance. For the first time, I felt I saw what Williams wrote. I felt the scene, in all its genius, in all its tragedy, come to life. It was so miraculous I feel like I didn’t breathe for the entirety of it. And it’s a long scene. Brian Smith gets this guy, he GETS him so hard! The Gentleman Caller is taking a public speaking course and he tries to practice some of the lessons he has learned on Laura. He thinks she suffers from an inferiority complex, and he honestly believes (seriously, no joke, he believes it) that if she just had a little bit more confidence she would be fine in life. Nobody cares about her limp. Nobody cares. I believe he believes that. He is not selling her a bill of goods. In the context of that scene, which exists in a magic bubble, Laura COULD find her way in life, Laura COULD survive. That’s the magic of the Gentleman Caller. Unfortunately, as it begins to dawn on him that he has been invited over specifically as a potential mate for Laura, he starts to back-pedal. I understand why he does so. But what I really got here, in this production, is how the Gentleman Caller honestly tries to do right by Laura. Yes, he messes up, but he doesn’t understand the rules. He also, to give him credit, does not look at Laura and see “pitiable cripple”. Not at all. He meets her on equal ground. He does condescend to her, but not in a malevolent way. He just thinks she needs a little confidence-raising. There is nothing wrong with her. You really understand that the way Amanda treats her daughter is the hugest part of the problem. Amanda flinches at the word “cripple”, but you really get that that’s because that word floats through her own mind every time she looks at Laura. I didn’t think that the Gentleman Caller was full of hot air when he complimented Laura. I thought he was a well-raised young man, who was being polite, who had suffered from an “inferiority complex” himself and so wanted to pass on some advice. He means well. And THAT’S the tragedy. The tragedy is not that he breezes through Laura’s life, breaks her glass unicorn, and doesn’t “get” what the big deal is. The tragedy is that he does understand (slowly), and he does try to do the right thing. He confesses to Laura that he is already in a relationship but he doesn’t shame Laura for having hopes in his direction. Trying to be kind (which is his worst fault, and that’s not a fault at all), he tells her that if he were her big brother he too would bring home nice guys. He plays fair, in other words. He tries to set Laura up so that she will NOT be destroyed or disappointed by their encounter. And, of course, that just makes it worse.

Brantley wrote in his review:

Brian J. Smith plays the emissary, whose glory days as a high school hero are behind him, in a performance that more than holds its own amid the histrionics of the Wingfields. He makes it clear that while this Gentleman Caller may hail from the bustling land of reality, he, too, seesaws between highs of illusion and the harshness of life as it is. And his scene alone with Laura — in which he gives her and himself a lecture on becoming a positive person — may be the best version of it we’ll ever see.

100% cosign. It was the best scene in the production. Devastating. Delicate. Funny. Romantic. I feel like it was a privilege just to witness those two people perform that famous scene. It came to life.

Best of all: the ensemble bowed together. No individual bows. Very moving. Definitely a production to see, if you can. Hard to get tickets now, no doubt. But worth it.

— Siobhan and I went to Rockwood Music Hall this past weekend to see Ruth Gerson play. Ruth Gerson is a musician, a singer/songwriter, who also teaches music workshops. Siobhan has taken her workshops, and Ruth Gerson has been a huge influence on my sister, a great support, a good friend, an encouraging mentor. I love her stuff (you can check her out on iTunes). What a voice. It was thrilling to hear it live. A fun night with my sister.


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14 Responses to Snapshots

  1. Jake Cole says:

    Only you could start conflating Supernatural and Bolsheviks and not surprise me.

    Oh, and speaking of your dead boyfriend, I picked up Ron Chernow’s Hamilton bio the other day at a used store. My to-read list is, oh, a mile long, but once I finish up one of my other bios (currently split between Brody’s Godard book, McBride’s Spielberg and Tag Gallagher’s AMAZING John Ford book) I might bump this to the top of the list.

    • sheila says:

      Chernow’s biography of Hamilton is a total game-changer. After centuries of Hamilton being bad-mouthed in every other biography of all the other major players, he finally gets his due. It’s exhaustive – but Chernow is such an entertaining/elegant writer. I loved his book on Rockefeller, too. He’s excellent with financial stuff, especially for someone like me who is not a banker, never wanted to be a banker, and doesn’t understand banking. But he makes all of those things completely comprehensible. For example, Hamilton’s theories about debt … and how right, how right he was in the end. (He was right about mostly everything.)

      I don’t know of those film books you mention. Or, I haven’t read them. Tell me more about the John Ford book!

      • sheila says:

        and hahaha about Bolsheviks. I know. It’s ridiculous. I’m reading about Petrograd in 1919 and I’m thinking, “Hm, I wonder what Sam and Dean Winchester would have made of all of this …”

      • Jake Cole says:

        They’re all more critical biographies than straight life stories, but the amount of detail in all of them is impressive. Richard Brody’s is called Everything is Cinema and tracks Godard from birth up through 2004’s Notre Musique. It’s been exhaustive so far, though sometimes I question some of the ties Brody makes between the films and what he uncovers of Godard’s life; I’m right at the implosion of the relationship with Karina and I think Brody too aggressively frames all of the films from that period around their marriage and breakup. (I’ve also heard that later in the book he makes some claims about Godard’s anti-Semitism that have been hotly contested). But I’ve never seen anyone go so in-depth on Godard, and with as much accessibility. I think the book often reads more easily than Brody’s New Yorker writing, which I also love.

        McBride’s book is just called “Steven Spielberg” and it takes a similar tack, though obviously the focus is different. Where Brody hones in on the development of Godard’s ideas and beliefs, McBride digs deep on Spielberg’s life details and sense of wonder, and so on. Surprisingly, it bounces around a bit in following certain threads, though generally it seems to be mostly chronological (I’m not as far in it so I can’t tell yet).

        Gallagher’s Ford book hits the best balance of film talk and bio details. It’s got all manner of anecdotes—the sprinkling of information about concerning Ford’s petulant crush on Maureen O’Hara is revelatory—and Gallagher’s idiosyncracies come out in the level of attention he devotes each film. For instance, The Informer gets much less in-depth talk than the other ’35 features, Judge Priest and Steambout ‘Round the Bend, and The Long Voyage Home gets barely any inches at all, even in the revised version I’m reading that shows Gallagher much more positive on it than the first edition.

        Since it’s also a work of criticism, I think Gallagher feels freer to come right out and stump for people. There are defenses of Ward Bond and Wayne as actors, of Ford’s racial content and his broad humor, of Stepin Fetchit, and a lot more. Sometimes I think Gallagher can overplay his hand a bit and scoff too much at our modern perspective, but his segment on The Searchers includes the most powerfully argued apologia for the role and whitewashing of Indians in the film, and Ford’s works in general, that I’ve read. It, and the marathon Ford watching it has often prompted (I went from having seen about six to close to 25, with plenty more to go), has basically turned the director from someone I loosely admired when I first encountered him a few years ago to maybe my favorite director. I can’t wait to read his Rossellini book as well, especially given how hard I’ve fallen for that director lately.

        • sheila says:

          That Ford book sounds amazing. I am angered by those who dismiss Ford’s stuff as only sentimental or brutish – it is both of those things, but it also contains a critique of those things.

          Thanks for the mini book-review – I appreciate it. They all sound fascinating!

  2. brendan says:

    I saw Judith Ivey do this in Los Angeles and I can’t imagine anyone EVER topping it. I don’t know how to articulate it but it sounds like a kind of inversion of your problems with Cherry Jones…also they made a deliberate choice that Laura was clearly on the autism spectrum…AMAZING the effect this had on the dynamics. Those shots of the reflecting pool are spectacular.

    • sheila says:

      Cherry Jones had a lot of great stuff in her performance – and her entrance to the dinner scene, wearing her old ball gown, was so tragic and funny that the entire audience gasped. She didn’t fall into the trap that most Amandas fall into – it was a lovely performance, and quite desperate at times. Just a bit too one-note in the first act, too yell-y.

      Judith Ivey – wow!!

      Can you tell me how they suggested the autism of Laura? How was that made explicit?

      • sheila says:

        and yes, the design of the production on Broadway right now is so superb. Hats off. What a way to re-think and re-imagine this classic. It worked so well.

  3. mutecypher says:

    I hadn’t kept track of Brian Smith since Stargate Universe ended. I liked him on the show and it’s great to hear he’s doing good work.

    Rasputin would have only needed killing once if Sam and Dean had been around (yeah, I know it was before Petrograd 1919).

    • sheila says:

      I looked at Brian Smith’s resume – he’s a young guy! He’s been on Broadway before (the whole cast has – nobody was making their Broadway debut). I was so impressed with his work. It’s a miracle, what he pulls off. I have seen that scene so many times, as I mentioned. It’s a staple in any acting class. It provides great opportunities for actors to learn about playing objectives, playing subtext. But it is HARD. He gets it. He gets it in a way I have never seen. It was a truly magical performance.

      and yeah, if only Sam and Dean could go back in time to Petrograd! And Rasputin was a yellow-eyed demon if ever there was one!

  4. brendan says:

    It was in the flatness of her voice, the leg didn’t seem like an injury just a manifestation of a tic, or that fluttery rocking back and forth behavior associated with it…and the obsession with the objects…I think it is a perfect interpretation. Their way of suggesting the memory was that the rear wall of the house was see-through…that makes it sound literal but it was very very effective…oh my god what a play.

  5. Regina Bartkoff says:

    Great review of The Glass Menagerie! I really want to see this production! especially when I saw pictures of the set, it looks so beautiful and amazing! And The Gentleman Caller sounds like a revelation. I’m not a fan of Jones. I saw her in Doubt. I had to get cheap tickets and when I realized I was so far up in the nosebleeds I was a bit dismayed at my cheapness, and wished I spent more money, but when the priest came on, it felt like I was in church, a big cathedral church, yes, but it worked. The priest was fabulous, I’m forgetting his name, young Irish dude, as was the young girl, but Jones was too much on the outside for my taste, always showing me what she is doing. I saw a scene from The Glass Menagerie on TV, and she and Quinto do work well together, but I still credited Quinto, he looked so relaxed and natural and truly enjoying that rare soft moment with his Mom. I still felt Jones pushing it and showing me, but this is not to say that I don’t think she is a talented smart actress, I just like the instinctive type more, but maybe I’ll be able to get a ticket and see for myself!

    • sheila says:

      Regina – definitely worth seeing, if for the production design (so beautiful) and the Gentleman Caller scene. Magical, really really deep understanding of what the play is about, what it is trying to say.

      Zachary Quinto was wonderful.

      But the Gentleman Caller stole the show. :)

      Oh, and there’s a pantomime-aspect to some of it – deliberate pantomimes – hard to explain, almost abstract, almost like dance-moves. It sounds terrible and “artsy” but I thought it was fantastic – and it (again) highlighted that what we were watching was not supposed to be realistic.

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